Session Review: Education

The Education Committee considered proposals this session to update Nebraska’s civic education standards, reimburse school districts for mental and behavioral health expenses and authorize teachers to physically restrain violent students.

Education Committee chairperson Sen. Mike Groene

Standards and curriculum

LB399, introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru and passed on a vote of 44-2, updates social studies requirements for Nebraska schools.

A renamed committee on American civics will hold at least two public meetings each year and ensure that a school district’s social studies curriculum is accessible to the public.

Each committee also will ensure that a district’s curriculum aligns with state social studies standards and “teaches and assesses foundational knowledge in civics, history, economics, financial literacy and geography.”

LB399 requires each school district to incorporate into its curriculum either an exam based on the 100-question civics portion of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization test or a civics-focused project, paper or presentation.

The committee did not advance a bill that would require Nebraska schools to teach students about the Holocaust.

As introduced by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, LB640 would expand the current definition of multicultural education to include studies related to the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, including such acts in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan and Ukraine.

Tuition and scholarships

The committee advanced a measure that provides resident college tuition rates for spouses and dependents of active duty military personnel who are assigned to duty stations outside Nebraska.

Under LB6, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood and passed 47-0, the spouse or legal dependent of a person who is on active duty military assignment in Nebraska is considered a resident for tuition purposes at the state’s postsecondary educational institutions as long as the person was on active duty in Nebraska at the time the spouse or legal dependent was accepted for admission and he or she remains continually enrolled.

The committee also advanced a bill that increases the number of programs eligible for the state’s community college gap assistance program.

The program provides funding for community colleges to provide awards to students in programs that are aligned with training programs with stackable credentials that lead to a program awarding college credit, an associate degree, a diploma or a certificate in an in-demand occupation such as health services, transportation and computer services.

Previously, only programs that are not offered for credit and that have a duration of at least 16 contact hours were eligible for the program.

Under LB180, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, programs that are offered for credit but are of insufficient clock, semester or quarter hours to be eligible for Federal Pell Grants also qualify for the program.

The bill passed on a 46-0 vote.

The committee did not advance a bill under which students who major in computer science, nursing, engineering and other in-demand fields at Nebraska’s university and public colleges could receive state scholarships.

Introduced by Gering Sen. John Stinner, LB639 would provide scholarships to eligible students whose declared majors lead to a high-demand, high-wage, high-skill career as designated by the state Department of Labor.

Mental and behavioral health services

Several bills meant to bolster mental health services, education and training for Nebraska students and school personnel remain in committee.

Public school nurses, teachers, counselors, psychologists, administrators and social workers currently are required to receive at least one hour of suicide awareness and prevention training each year.

LB120, sponsored by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would require staff to receive instead one hour of behavioral and mental health training each year during contract hours.

The training would include suicide awareness and prevention training and also could include identification of early warning signs and symptoms of behavioral and mental health issues, effective responses for educators, trauma-informed care and procedures for making students and parents aware of services and supports.

LB488, introduced by Howard, would change requirements related to school districts’ comprehensive health education programs.

Current law requires schools to include instruction about the physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of drug use, misuse and abuse and to place a special emphasis on tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogenics, amphetamines, barbiturates and narcotics.

LB488 would repeal that requirement and instead require schools to incorporate age-appropriate mental health education and comprehensive drug awareness and prevention education into their programs.

LB725, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, would create a state Department of Education fund used to reimburse qualifying school districts and educational service units for up to 80 percent of their allowable mental health expenditures.

To qualify for reimbursement, a district or ESU would designate a mental health resource liaison who would help students, families, teachers and schools find mental health resources for students in the district or ESU.

Other measures

LB147, introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, would authorize a teacher or administrator to “use the necessary physical contact or physical restraint” to control a student who becomes physically violent. It also would authorize a teacher to have a disruptive student removed from the classroom under certain circumstances.

A teacher or administrator would not be subject to legal action or administrative discipline if he or she was acting in a “reasonable manner.”

Groene filed a motion to place LB147 on general file, even though the Education Committee had not voted to advance it. Senators voted 25-14 to adopt the motion, which requires a majority vote of the Legislature. The bill remains on general file.

Several other bills received public hearings but were not advanced by the committee, including:
• LB73, introduced by Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman, which would require school boards to display the phrase “In God We Trust” in English in each classroom or other prominent place so that every student could see and read it each school day;
• LB358, introduced by Walz, which would change how qualified early childhood education membership is calculated for state aid purposes; and
• LB702, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, which would require postsecondary educational institutions to establish rules and procedures for resolving allegations of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking by students and employees and provide a method for anonymously reporting those incidents whether they occur on, near or off campus.

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