Loan forgiveness, teacher certification changes advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval April 7 to a bill intended to address a shortage of teachers in Nebraska schools.

Sen. Lynne Walz
Sen. Lynne Walz

LB1218, introduced by the Education Committee, would provide $1,000 in loan forgiveness to student teachers under the Attracting Excellence to Teaching Program. An individual would have to provide service for a full academic semester within a public or private school and meet certain requirements to qualify.

Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, the committee’s chairperson, said that change and others in a committee amendment would help more teachers enter the profession.

“Our teacher shortage is a serious issue, especially in rural areas, but persists around the state,” she said. “We need to do something to help fix this problem.”

The committee amendment, adopted 38-0, replaced the bill with the amended provisions of LB1218 and LB945, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn.

Under Linehan’s proposal, the state Department of Education would provide qualifying teachers $5,000 per year in loan repayment assistance for up to five years.

To qualify for assistance, an individual must be a Nebraska resident teaching full time at a public or private school or performing dual-credit instructional duties for public or private school students while employed full time at a public or private nonprofit college or university in Nebraska.

The total amount of loan repayment assistance could not exceed $5 million in any fiscal year.

The amendment would allow a teacher from another state to demonstrate eligibility for a Nebraska teaching certificate or permit if they possess a similar certificate or permit in that state.

It also would require the State Board of Education to authorize the issuance of a permit or certificate to an applicant who has been offered employment to teach, administer or provide special services by a public, private, denominational or parochial school in Nebraska.

Currently, teaching candidates must demonstrate basic skills competency in reading, writing and math by successful employment experiences or successfully completing an exam designated by the State Board of Education.

Walz has said that students also are required to pass that exam, the Praxis core, before enrolling in a Nebraska teacher education program at one of Nebraska’s postsecondary educational institutions.

Under the amendment, the State Board of Education could not require a statewide examination as an entrance requirement related to basic skills competency when approving Nebraska teacher education programs.

The amendment would allow teachers to demonstrate basic skills competency prior to certification by taking an exam designated by the board and correcting any score deficiencies by retaking the failed portion or earning a minimum grade or above in college courses related to the deficiency. They also could demonstrate competency by experience as an educator in another state.

Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman introduced an amendment, adopted 31-1, that removed the proposed changes related to basic skills competency, saying it would be “inappropriate” to certify teachers if they do not pass the Praxis core.

Walz said she disagreed with Erdman that a single standardized test can determine whether a teaching candidate is prepared for the classroom, but she supported his amendment so that the other proposed changes in the bill could move forward.

After adopting the amendments, senators voted 39-0 to advance LB1218 to select file.

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