Bill to create education collaboration council stalls

A bill intended to increase coordination and communication among the state’s public education programs failed to advance from general file March 1.

LB371, introduced by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, would create the Nebraska Council for Educational Success. The council would recommend to the Legislature ways to help students advance through the education system from early childhood to postsecondary school, increase enrollment in teacher education programs, align high school and college academic standards and increase parent involvement in children’s education.

The council would be composed of 21 members with experience in education, government and business, would meet at least once per quarter and would report annually to the Legislature and the governor on its activities.

Sullivan said the council would help the Legislature prioritize its long-term education policy and funding measures, a function similar to that of the executive branch’s P-16 initiative. She said the proposed council would have a permanence the current initiative lacks and that it would be subject to open meetings and records laws.

“By putting [the council] in statute, it says that it’s important enough to have that collaboration over time by these different education entities,” Sullivan said.

Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln made LB371 her priority bill this session. She said the council would help the Legislature address achievement gaps in the state’s education system, in which 42 percent of children are at risk of failing in school, only 39 percent are eligible for higher education aid and 29 percent of high school graduates leave college before finishing their freshman year.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue also supported the bill. She said the council would help the Legislature create sound long-term policy and funding decisions that are not influenced by senators’ term limits or the changing of governors’ administrations.

“What we’ve seen in a term-limited Legislature is that we need more attention paid to having long-range planning and long-range policy making,” Crawford said. “I think it’s very critical that we as a Legislature recognize our role in charting a long-term course for the state in terms of [education] policy.”

Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft spoke in opposition to the bill. She said the proposed council would be too similar to the existing initiative and that it is unclear how the council would improve the state’s education system.

“I’m not confident that just forming another group is going to achieve a change that we’re looking for,” Brasch said.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango spoke against the bill, saying it would duplicate the P-16 initiative’s efforts. He said the state Department of Education should be responsible for long-term education policy planning and anticipating the educational demands of Nebraska’s workforce.

Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk also spoke against the bill. One of the main challenges the state faces, he said, is ensuring that its education system produces students with the skills needed to succeed in the workforce. He said the composition of the proposed council, which includes only one member from the business community, would not give business enough of a voice in shaping education policy.

“We’re trying to educate our youth to become productive members of society, to earn a living,” he said, “and to do that I think we need to have more of an input from business and industry.”

The bill failed to advance on a 21-21 vote. Twenty-five votes were needed for advancement.

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