Education omnibus bill amended, advanced

Senators gave first-round approval March 31 to a bill that would, as amended, offer financial protection to students of for-profit schools, require trained lifeguards at swimming pools used by schools and place voluntary termination agreements under school district levy limits.

As introduced by the Education Committee, LB512 was drafted to make several technical changes to education law. A committee amendment, adopted 33-4, incorporated the provisions of several other education-related bills into LB512.

Provisions of LB123, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, would authorize the Coordinating Commission on Postsecondary Education to assess a fee on for-profit post-secondary institutions in the state and direct the proceeds to a cash fund. The commission then would receive, evaluate and pay claims to students to recover lost tuition and fees resulting from the closure of a for-profit institution.

LB175, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, would prohibit technology companies that contract with schools from using student data for targeted advertising or creating student profiles for non-educational purposes.

LB235, introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, would authorize recipients of a grant under the Summer Food Service Program to spend a grant’s full amount when starting or expanding a summer food program. As amended, the bill would reduce the amount of money appropriated to the program from $140,000 to $100,000 per year.

LB398, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would require that a person currently certified in first aid, CPR and drowning risk prevention be present at every swimming pool owned, rented, leased or otherwise used by a school district for practice, competition or other school function.

LB457, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, would remove a budget and levy limitation exemption for the money a school district agrees to pay teachers and administrators in exchange for voluntary termination of employment.

Briese said placing voluntary termination payments within a school district’s levy limit would provide more control of and accountability for school spending.

“Boards and superintendents can still use this tool — they just have to do it responsibly and plan ahead for it,” he said. “To the extent they need to go outside of the budget restrictions and the levy lid, they can take it to a vote of the people if need be.”

Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha opposed the committee amendment. He said voluntary termination agreements provide an incentive for older, higher-paid teachers to retire, making way for younger teachers who make less. This ultimately saves school districts money and allows new teachers to enter the workforce, he said. However, Briese’s proposal would make it more difficult for school districts that have reached the maximum levy limit to use the agreements, Harr said.

“There are very few school districts that use it,” he said, “but [for] those that do it is a very valuable tool.”

Harr introduced an amendment that would limit payments under a voluntary termination agreement to $45,000 for any employee. It failed 23-17.

Lawmakers then voted 32-2 to advance the bill to select file.

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