Allocation of lottery funds for education programs considered

New behavioral awareness and mental health training initiatives would receive a portion of state lottery funds under a bill heard Feb. 2 by the Education Committee.

Sen. Lynne Walz
Sen. Lynne Walz

Current law directs 44.5 percent of state lottery funds to various education programs each year. The state Department of Revenue estimates that $21.2 million in lottery funds will be directed to these programs in FY2021-22, $21.7 million in FY2022-23 and $22.1 million in FY2023-24.

LB529, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, would allocate those funds to more than a dozen programs for fiscal years 2021-22 through 2025-26.

Under one new program, the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council would ensure that annual behavioral awareness training is available statewide and develop, implement and administer a statewide teacher support system beginning in school year 2021-22.

Beginning with the 2023-24 school year, school districts would ensure that teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school nurses and counselors receive the training.

Walz said the proposal, which would direct 9.5 percent of education lottery funds to the new program, would allow ESUs to develop training for small school districts that otherwise could not afford to hire dedicated behavioral awareness experts.

The evidence-based training would include:

  • recognition of detrimental factors impacting student behavior;
  • positive behavior support and proactive teaching strategies; and
  • verbal intervention and de-escalation techniques.

LB529 also would require each school district to designate at least one school employee as a behavioral awareness point of contact for each school building. Each point of contact would be trained in behavioral awareness and have knowledge of community service providers and other resources available for students and families in the district.

Additionally, each district would maintain or have access to an existing registry of local mental health and counseling resources. Each behavioral awareness point of contact would coordinate student access to those services whenever possible.

LB529 would direct 1.5 percent of the funds to a new mental health training grant program administered by the state Department of Education.

In addition to other requirements, applicants would have to describe how the training provided under the grant would prepare recipients to safely de-escalate crisis situations, recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and timely refer a student to available mental health services in the early stages of the development of a mental disorder.

The bill would allocate 1 percent to another new program under which 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.

Under another new program, which would receive 2 percent of the funds, the Coordinating Council for Postsecondary Education would distribute grants to teachers enrolled in courses that lead to qualification to teach dual-credit and career and technical education courses.

LB529 would allocate 2.5 percent 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.

The Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund, which provides financial aid to low-income Nebraska residents enrolled at postsecondary educational institutions, would receive the largest allocation at 58 percent, down from the 62 percent allocation it received for fiscal years 2016-17 through 2020-21.

Mike Baumgartner, executive director of the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, testified in support of LB529. Although the proposed decrease would slow the NOG program’s growth, he said, it would receive $14.4 million in lottery funds for each of the next two years.

“That provides a good foundation,” Baumgartner said, “but the program will need additional funds in the future to make affordability gains.”

Kyle McGowan testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, the Nebraska Association of School Boards and other school organizations. LB529 would help teachers, administrators and other school personnel address the increasing prevalence of mental health problems among Nebraska students, he said.

Jean Anderson, special education director for ESU 10, also testified in support, saying behavioral awareness and mental health are critical issues for Nebraska schools. She said the proposed training would help teachers and other school staff safely de-escalate situations in which students become unable to emotionally self-regulate.

No opponents were present to testify at the hearing and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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