Education lottery allocation bill expanded, advanced

A bill distributing state lottery funds to education programs received first-round approval May 2 after lawmakers amended it to include nearly two dozen other education-related proposals.

Sen. Dave Murman
Sen. Dave Murman

Current law sets aside a portion of state lottery proceeds for education. LB705, as introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, would allocate those funds to various education programs over the next several years.

An Education Committee amendment, adopted 35-1, replaced the bill with a modified version of the original proposal as well as the provisions of 17 other bills heard by the committee this session. Senators adopted further amendments containing the provisions of five additional bills.

Murman, the committee’s chairperson, said the proposals included in the committee amendment are intended to address four key issues: teacher recruitment and retention, school safety, special education funding and increased parental and student involvement.

Lottery funds

The committee amendment would allocate lottery funds to a number of new and existing education programs for fiscal year 2024-25 through FY2028-29.

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

Under one new program, which would receive 8 percent, the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council would ensure that annual behavioral awareness training is available statewide beginning in school year 2024-25. The ESUCC also would develop, implement and administer a statewide teacher support system.

Beginning with the 2026-27 school year, each school district would ensure that administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses and counselors receive the training.

The amendment also would require the state Department of Education to develop and adopt a model policy relating to behavioral intervention, behavioral and classroom management and removal of a student from a classroom. School districts would be required to adopt their own policies consistent with or comparable to the model policy by Aug. 1, 2025.

The new College Pathway Program Cash Fund would receive 2 percent of the lottery funds. Under the new program, the department would provide grants to qualifying service providers that help low-income and underrepresented students graduate from high school, apply to college and complete the requirements to receive an associate or bachelor’s degree.

The amendment also would allocate 1.5 percent of the funds to a new mental health training grant program administered by the department.

Under another new program, the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education would provide up to $250,000 in grants each year to teachers enrolled in education pathways leading to qualification to teach dual-credit and career and technical education courses.

One percent of the funds would be allocated to the new Door to College Scholarship Act, under which the commission would provide grants of up to $5,000 annually to eligible students for their educational expenses at public or private postsecondary educational institutions in Nebraska.

Eligible students would have to receive a high school diploma from an accredited education program at a youth rehabilitation and treatment center or from a public, private, denominational or parochial school within one year of being discharged from a YRTC.

Teacher recruitment and retention

The amended provisions of LB385, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, would create a grant program administered by the state Department of Education intended to recruit and retain Nebraska elementary and high school teachers.

Under the proposal, teachers who have signed a contract to complete their second, fourth or sixth year of full-time employment as a teacher at a Nebraska school could apply for a $2,500 grant.

Teachers who obtain an endorsement in special education, mathematics, science, technology or dual credit could apply for a $5,000 grant.

The amended provisions of LB603, also sponsored by Linehan, would require the commissioner of education to issue an alternative certificate to teach full time to applicants with a bachelor’s degree who have successfully completed a qualifying alternative teacher certification program.

Alternative certificate holders would have to participate in a school district clinical experience during their first semester of employment as a teacher.

Under the amended provisions of LB724, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, applicants for an entry-level teaching permit or a temporary certificate to teach on a full-time basis no longer would have to demonstrate basic proficiency in reading, writing and math by passing a standardized test designated by the State Board of Education.

The amended provisions of LB762, sponsored by Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington, would require the state Department of Education to create a program intended to help paraprofessionals and paraeducators become certified teachers.

Under the program, those individuals could apply to the department for a grant not to exceed $3,000 for expenses related to training or education required to obtain a Nebraska teaching certificate.

School safety and discipline

The amended provisions of LB516, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, state legislative intent to appropriate $870,000 in state general funds to the state Department of Education to administer the Safe2HelpNE report line, beginning with fiscal year 2024-25.

Walz also introduced an amendment to add other provisions originally included in LB516.

The amendment, adopted 26-1, would require the commissioner of education to administer a grant program to provide funding for security-related infrastructure projects including surveillance equipment, door-locking systems and double-entry doors for school buildings.

The proposal would transfer $10 million from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund to a new School Safety and Security Fund, which would be used to provide the grants. It also would require the department to provide an annual report that includes the number of schools that received grant funding, how the grant funds were used and other information.

Under the amended provisions of LB632, introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha, an elementary school could not suspend a student in pre-kindergarten through second grade unless the student brings a deadly weapon on school grounds.

McKinney’s proposal also would require school districts to develop a policy that includes disciplinary measures inside the school as an alternative to suspension.

Vargas introduced an amendment to include provisions of his LB774, which would make several changes to the hearing process related to long-term suspension, expulsion or mandatory reassignment of public school students.

Among other updates, the proposal would allow the student’s parent or guardian to request a hearing examiner other than the one recommended by the superintendent.

The amendment, adopted 25-6, also would require school districts to give suspended students an opportunity to complete classwork and homework missed during the suspension.

Other K-12 measures

Under the amended provisions of LB153, introduced by DeBoer, school districts could apply to the state Department of Education for payment from a new fund intended to help small school districts cover large, unexpected special education expenditures.

The proposal states legislative intent to transfer $2.5 million to the fund for fiscal year 2023-24.

The amended provisions of LB372, sponsored by Murman, would require school boards to establish policies and procedures allowing a homeschool student who is a resident of the district to participate in extracurricular activities to the same extent as a student enrolled in a public school governed by the board.

The policies and procedures would require a homeschool student who participates in extracurricular activities to be enrolled in no more and no less than five credit hours offered by the school district in any semester.

The amended provisions of LB414, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, would require school districts to adopt specific capacity standards for acceptance and rejection of option enrollment applications and determine capacity for special education services on a case-by-case basis.

If the application of a student with an individualized education program or a diagnosed disability is rejected, the proposal would require the school district to provide written notification to the student’s parent or guardian describing the required services and accommodations that the district does not have the capacity to provide.

Beginning in 2024, Conrad’s measure also would require each district to provide the department certain information relating to all option enrollment applications rejected by the district each year.

The provisions of LB520, sponsored by Walz, would require public school students to complete at least five high school credit hours in computer science and technology education prior to graduation beginning in school year 2027-28 rather than 2026-27.

Walz said the measure also includes a technical change that would allow a broader selection of courses to meet the requirement.

Under the provisions of LB647, introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha, the department would be required to purchase and loan textbooks — including digital, electronic or online resources — to children enrolled in kindergarten to twelfth grade of an approved private school. Currently, school boards are responsible for purchasing and loaning textbooks to Nebraska private school students upon request.

McDonnell said the amended provisions of his LB648 would authorize the department to fund a workforce diploma program to provide dropout recovery services to adults and youths 16 and older who are not required to be enrolled in secondary school.

The provisions of LB708, introduced by La Vista Sen. John Arch, would require the state Department of Education, the state Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Probation Administration and the State Court Administrator to enter into a memorandum of understanding for data sharing to improve educational opportunities for students who are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.

The amended provisions of LB787, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would require the State Board of Education to establish an innovation grant program to procure or purchase an annual license for a three-dimensional, game-based learning platform to engage middle and high school students in coursework and careers in science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and mathematics.

Elkhorn Sen. R. Brad von Gillern introduced an amendment, adopted 35-2, to include the amended provisions of his LB805.

The amendment would require each school district to allow a representative of certain youth organizations, including the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, to provide information, services and activities to students in a school building or on school grounds at least once during each school year.

A representative would be subject to a background check and could provide oral information to students only during non-instructional time.

Von Gillern said some Nebraska schools have been “resistant” to accommodating the organizations, which he said have a history of teaching life and leadership skills to Nebraska youth.

Conrad opposed the amendment, saying youth organizations have a number of other ways to provide information to students and parents. If certain schools have policies denying access to external groups, she said, those groups should petition the school boards to change their policies rather than ask the Legislature to intervene.

Murman offered an amendment to include provisions of LB585, introduced by Sen. Jana Hughes of Seward, which would expand a current requirement that certain school personnel receive suicide awareness and prevention training each year.

The amendment, adopted 34-0, would require that all school employees who interact with students receive at least one hour of behavioral and mental health training annually with a focus on suicide awareness and prevention.

Postsecondary education measures

The provisions of LB356, introduced by Walz, would make technical changes to the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Act. She said the measure would update a term to match a federal change related to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and clarify a definition to account for online universities.

Under the provisions of LB698, sponsored by Murman, a member of the U.S. Space Force who enrolls in a public college or university in Nebraska would be considered a resident student.

The amended provisions of LB703, also introduced by Murman, would allow Nebraska state colleges and the University of Nebraska to manage the liquidation of surplus property.

Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha introduced an amendment to include amended provisions of his LB222.

Under the amendment, adopted 27-5, a public college or university could not inquire about or consider a person’s criminal history or juvenile court record as part of its application and admission process for disciplines not requiring licensure or clinical field placements.

Schools still could inquire about or consider that information to the extent required by state or federal law when voluntarily submitted by an applicant.

The restriction would not apply to inquiries or consideration of criminal history or juvenile court record information in any application or other process relating to student housing or any athletic program.

Fredrickson said inquiring about an individual’s criminal history during the college admission process can deter applicants, preventing them from receiving the education needed to reintegrate into society.

Dunbar Sen. Julie Slama opposed the amendment, saying it would create a “loophole” that prevents colleges and the university from screening out applicants who have a history of violence and sexual assault.

After eight hours of debate on general file, Murman filed a motion to invoke cloture, which ends debate and forces a vote on the bill and any pending amendments.

The motion succeeded on a vote of 39-0. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Lawmakers then advanced LB705 to select file on a vote of 40-0.

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