Education cleanup bill amended, advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval April 23 to a bill containing several changes to education-related programs after amending it to include the modified provisions of two other bills.

Sen. Lynne Walz
Sen. Lynne Walz

Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, sponsor of LB528, said the bill contains several technical changes requested by the state Department of Education and others.

Among those changes, Walz said, the bill would extend the sunset date to school year 2020-21 for a grant program meant to improve teacher effectiveness, expand the list of programs eligible for the Community College Gap Assistance Program and change eligibility requirements for the Access College Early Scholarship Program to help more students in need.

LB528 also would specify that the purchase of computer technology or equipment and internet access and related services are qualified higher education expenses under the Nebraska educational savings plan trust.

Additionally, the proposal would require each school board to require that the telephone number for a national or local suicide prevention hotline or a crisis text line be included on new student identification cards beginning with the 2022-23 school year.

Public postsecondary institutions also would include one of those numbers on new student ID cards beginning with the 2022-23 academic year.

An Education Committee amendment, adopted 46-0, includes amended provisions of LB3, introduced by Albion Sen. Tom Briese.

They would require the department to establish and maintain a website where the public could access school financial data at the statewide and district levels. The website would include total receipts, receipts classified by source, total expenditures, cost per pupil and performance.

The provisions also would require school districts to include the website’s internet address on a currently required budget hearing notice.

Briese said the proposal would give taxpayers an easy-to-use tool with which to find school financial data and compare their school district with others.

The committee amendment also includes amended provisions of LB558, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas. He said the changes are meant to address a teacher shortage made worse by the pandemic.

The provisions would require the state commissioner of education to grant a temporary teaching certificate to any applicant who has completed a teacher education program at a standard institution of higher education and has a certificate to teach in good standing from another state.

The amendment also would authorize the commissioner to grant a temporary teaching certificate to any applicant who has earned a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree from an accredited college or university and has demonstrated basic skills competency and passed a subject area examination.

The temporary certificates would be valid for no more than two years, during which the holder would be required to obtain a full teaching certificate.

After adopting a technical amendment on a vote of 45-0, senators voted 44-0 to advance LB528 to select file.

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