Allocation of lottery funds for education advanced

Senators gave first-round approval July 21 to a bill that would allocate lottery funds to certain education-related programs for the next five years.

Sen. Mike Groene
Sen. Mike Groene

Current law directs a portion of state lottery funds to several education programs. LB920, introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, would allocate those funds for fiscal year 2021-22 through FY2025-26.

The state Department of Revenue estimates that approximately $21 million in lottery funds will be directed toward education during each of those years.

An Education Committee amendment, adopted 43-0, would replace the bill with a modified version of the original proposal. Groene said the amendment is the result of an Education Committee interim study, which is required every five years to evaluate the use of education lottery funds.

Under the amendment, the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund, which provides financial aid to low-income Nebraska residents enrolled at postsecondary educational institutions, would continue to receive the largest allocation of funds, 58 percent.

The amendment would allocate 9.5 percent of the education lottery funds each year to a new fund that would pay for training outlined in LB998. That bill, introduced by Glenvil Sen. Dave Murman, would require school districts to provide behavioral awareness and intervention training to teachers and certain other school staff.

In addition to setting the allocations, the amendment would require any department or agency receiving a transfer of lottery funds or administering a fund that receives a transfer to submit a report each year to the state Auditor of Public Accounts with information on how the money is used. It would require the auditor to compile annual summaries of those reports and submit them to the Legislature.

The committee amendment also includes amended provisions of LB568, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, and LB1168, introduced by Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski.

Morfeld’s proposal would require the state Department of Education to establish a mental health training grant program for school districts and educational service units. The amendment would direct 1.5 percent of the lottery education funds to a cash fund used to pay for the grants.

Kolowski’s proposal would direct 7 percent of education lottery funds—approximately $1.4 million the first year, according to the state Department of Education—to new career-readiness and dual-credit education initiatives.

The amendment would allocate the first $282,500 of those funds to a cash fund used to pay the annual fee for an online education and career planning tool.

It would allocate 45 percent of the remaining funds to a new grant program that would be administered by the Coordinating Council for Postsecondary Education. Under the program, the commission would distribute money to teachers enrolled in courses leading to qualification to teach dual-credit courses and career and technical education courses.

The amendment would allocate 15 percent of the remaining funds to another new program that would be administered by the department. Beginning with school year 2021-22, the department would reimburse school districts for the amount they pay to reduce the fees charged to low-income students by certain college credit testing programs.

Finally, the amendment would direct 40 percent of the remaining funds to the existing Access College Early Scholarship Cash Fund. The ACE program, also administered by the commission, provides financial aid to low-income high school students who enroll in college courses through dual enrollment or early enrollment at Nebraska colleges or universities.

Kolowski supported the amendment, saying the commission estimates that it turns down approximately 500 ACE applicants per year due to a lack of funds.

“Hopefully, our additional dollars will come close to fully funding the scholarship program,” he said.

After adopting a technical amendment on a vote of 41-0, senators advanced LB920 to select file on a vote of 43-0.

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