Session Review: Education

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/edu' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of the Education Committee'>Education Committee</a> chairperson <a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist42' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Mike Groene'>Sen. Mike Groene</a>
Education Committee chairperson Sen. Mike Groene

The Education Committee advanced bills this session that would require special instruction for students with dyslexia, allow an exemption from a prekindergarten teacher certification requirement and create a fund to pay for social workers to connect students to behavioral and mental health care services.

Instruction

LB1081, introduced by the committee and passed 46-1, is an annual cleanup bill that includes technical changes requested by the state Department of Education.

The bill requires the learning community coordinating council to file an annual financial report with the department and authorizes the commissioner of education to direct that learning community funds be withheld if the report is not filed. It also requires the council to complete an audit of its accounts at least once every three years.

The department no longer is required to file several reports with the council, including a census of 5- to 18-year-olds, an end-of-the-school-year statistical summary, an annual financial report and a fall membership report.

The bill eliminates the requirement that school districts submit poverty and limited English proficiency plans to the department and the council.

LB1081 also changes a current provision that “no more than three” schools may be designated priority schools to “no less than three.” It reduces from five to three the number of years that a school can be designated a priority school before the state Board of Education reevaluates the school’s progress plan.

Finally, the bill requires school boards to collaborate with their county attorney to review the rules and standards for student conduct that would require the school to contact law enforcement.

The bill was amended to include provisions of LB651, introduced by Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, which is intended to provide intensive interventions for students identified as having a reading deficiency.

These require each school district to administer an approved reading assessment three times during the school year to all students in kindergarten through third grade. Students who score below a certain threshold will be identified as having a reading deficiency, and school districts are required to provide those students with a supplemental reading intervention program.

The program will be implemented during regular school hours in addition to regular reading instruction unless otherwise agreed to by a parent or guardian. The bill also requires schools to offer a summer reading program for students who continue to have a reading deficiency at the end of the school year.

The reading intervention programs may include several intensive intervention strategies, such as daily targeted small-group reading, parent training workshops and access to before-school or after-school supplemental reading instruction.

LB1052, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks and passed 44-0, requires schools to provide special reading instruction for students with dyslexia beginning this fall.

A technical assistance document created by the department will provide information on dyslexia’s characteristics, its associated conditions and indicators and the screening, evaluation, instruction and intervention for dyslexia. The information will be distributed to all school districts, educational service units and teacher education programs in the state to promote awareness of dyslexia.

The bill prohibits school districts from requiring a student who exhibits characteristics of dyslexia to obtain a medical diagnosis in order to receive interventions.

It also requires that each teacher education program approved by the state board include dyslexia instruction in its initial program course requirements beginning in July 2019.

A bill intended to ensure civic competence among Nebraska students failed to advance from general file.

Under current law, each school district’s board is required to appoint three members to an Americanism committee that inspects and approves the textbooks used in the teaching of American history and government. As introduced by Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch, LB1069 would have made several updates to state law outlining the committees’ responsibilities and the teaching of American history and social studies.

Senators voted 27-13 to place the bill on general file, even though the Education Committee had taken no action to advance it. This unusual maneuver requires a majority vote of the Legislature.

Brasch introduced an amendment that would have replaced the bill. Among other provisions, the Americanism committee would have ensured that a school’s social studies curriculum aligns with the standards adopted by the state board and “teaches and assesses foundational knowledge in civics, history, economics, financial literacy and geography.”

The Legislature adjourned without voting on the amendment or the bill. LB1069 was not scheduled for further debate.

School funding

A proposal to provide a minimum amount of state aid to each public school district failed to advance from the first round of debate.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, sponsor of LB1103, said the bill would have ensured that each school district would receive no less than 25 percent of its basic funding needs—as calculated by the state’s school aid formula—in the form of state aid.

The Legislature moved to the next item on the agenda before voting on the bill. Per a practice implemented last year by Speaker Jim Scheer, the sponsor of a bill facing a potential filibuster was required to demonstrate sufficient support for a cloture motion for the measure to be scheduled for additional debate.

A bill that would have limited a special school building fund levy also stalled on the first round after a failed cloture motion.

Under current law, school boards may levy up to 14 cents per $100 of property valuation to establish a special fund for acquiring sites for school buildings, purchasing existing buildings for use as school buildings and the erection, alteration, equipping and furnishing of school buildings.

As introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, LB778 would have restricted the use of the fund to repairs and alterations that do not add space to a school building and to equip or furnish school buildings.

An Education Committee amendment would have replaced the bill. Among other provisions, it would have limited the levy to five cents and added major replacement repairs on existing structures to the list of authorized purposes.

Groene filed a motion to invoke cloture, or cease debate and vote on the bill. The motion failed on a vote of 18-12. Thirty-three votes were needed.

The committee did not advance a bill that would have directed more state funding to special education programs and support services.

LB876, introduced by Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski, would have required the state to reimburse school districts at least 80 percent of the total excess allowable costs for those programs and services. Kolowski said the state currently reimburses schools for approximately 48 percent.

The state Department of Education estimates that the bill would have increased state special education reimbursement by approximately $150 million in fiscal year 2018-19 and an additional $170 million in FY2019-20.

Teacher certification

The committee advanced a bill meant to address a shortage of qualified early childhood education teachers in rural Nebraska.

LB803, introduced by Gering Sen. John Stinner and passed 47-0, authorizes the state board to adopt rules and regulations that exempt a prekindergarten program from the requirement that all teachers and administrators hold a valid certificate or permit.

A bill that would have created a two-year alternative certification path for those who wish to teach in Nebraska’s public schools failed to advance from committee.

LB1135, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would have required the state board to grant a Nebraska teaching certificate to any person in good standing who has a valid teaching certificate from another state.

It also would have required the board to grant a two-year teaching certificate to those who hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, pass basic skills and subject area tests and enroll in an alternative teacher certification program approved by the board.

Other measures

A proposal to place a social worker in each of the state’s 17 ESUs to aid students with behavioral and mental health problems was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, LB998 created a fund for a collaborative school behavioral and mental health program. Once the initiative received $3.6 million, each ESU or the ESU coordinating council could have hired a social worker who would train teachers and school personnel and work with parents, schools and behavioral and mental health care providers to connect students to services.

Both public and private schools could have participated in the program, which would have ended in 2022. Its funding was limited to private donations, and the department would have administered the fund.

LB998 passed 31-15 on April 18, the final day of the 2018 session.

In his veto message, the governor said LB998 is unnecessary because ESUs already may receive private donations to pay for behavioral and mental health care programs. He said the proposal does not coordinate with existing efforts by the state Department of Health and Human Services and fails to describe how parents and guardians would be involved in a student’s screening, referral and treatment.

The committee advanced a bill reducing the number of public school classifications from six to three.

Introduced by the committee last session, LB377 eliminates Class I, II and VI districts, with the remaining Class II districts becoming Class III districts. All districts now will be classified as either Class III, IV or V.

Under LB377, Class III districts have fewer than 150,000 inhabitants and maintain elementary and high school grades under a single school board.

Class IV districts are those with a population of 100,000 or more that maintain elementary and high school grades. Class V districts have a metropolitan-class city, and their employees participate in a separate retirement system. Lincoln Public Schools will be the only remaining Class IV district, and Omaha Public Schools will be the only remaining Class V district.

The bill passed on a 47-0 vote and takes effect Jan. 1, 2019.

A bill that would have required the University of Nebraska to adopt a detailed policy governing free expression on its campuses failed to advance from committee.

LB718, as introduced by Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran, also would have required the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents to create a nine-member committee that would have submitted an annual report to the Legislature, the governor and the university’s governing body.

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