Session Review: Education

Safety and accountability were priorities of the Legislature’s Education Committee while considering legislation this session.

Accountability

LB438, introduced by York Sen. Greg Adams, creates an intervention team appointed by the State Board of Education to assist the state’s three lowest performing school districts in diagnosing issues and designing and implementing strategies to address them. A school will retain the priority designation until the State Board of Education determines it is no longer necessary.

The intervention team—in conjunction with school district staff—is required to develop a progress plan to include specific action by the school and district to remove the priority designation. Any priority school will be required to comply with the progress plan for the school district to maintain accreditation.

The State Board annually will review progress plans and suggest any modifications. If a school is designated as a priority school for five consecutive years, the board is required to reevaluate the progress plan. It may implement an alternative administrative structure if a school consistently fails to meet the guidelines set forth in its progress plan.

Senators passed the bill on a 48-0 vote.

Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer introduced LB470, which requires that contracts for current superintendents and ESU administrators—including all current and future costs to the school district or ESU—be posted on the district or ESU website at least three days before being considered for approval by the board, or within two days following approval for newly hired superintendents and ESU administrators.

Senators passed the bill on a 43-0 vote.

Student safety

Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill introduced LB923, passed 45-0, which provides annual training on suicide awareness and prevention to all public school nurses, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, school social workers and administrators, beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

The required training will be included as in-service training required by the state Department of Education or as part of required professional development activities. The department will be required to collaborate with appropriate organizations and experts to develop a list of approved training materials.

The bill incorporates provisions of LB872, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski, which create the position of state school security director under the department, effective Jan. 1, 2015. The director’s duties include:
• collecting safety and security plans from each school system;
• recommending minimum standards for school security;
• conducting an assessment of the security of each public school building;
• identifying deficiencies in school security based on the minimum standards adopted by the state;
• establishing security awareness and preparedness tools and training programs for public school staff;
• establishing research-based model instructional programs for staff, students and parents to address causes for violent attacks on schools; and
• overseeing suicide awareness and prevention training.

The bill exempts private, parochial and denominational schools from the state school security director’s authority. Exempted school districts still may consult with the security director on individual matters.

The bill also contains provisions of two other bills: LB782, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, which establishes a “return-to-learn” protocol to help ease the transition for students who have suffered a concussion; and LB741, originally introduced by Gretna Sen. John Murante, which requires that public school districts conduct at least two tornado preparedness drills each school year.

School funding

The Education Committee introduced LB967, which contains several changes to the Tax Equity and Educational Support Opportunities Act (TEEOSA) and Education Innovation Fund.

The bill reduces by half the teacher education and instructional time allowances for the calculation of aid under TEEOSA for fiscal year 2015-16 and eliminates the two allowances completely in FY2016-17. The bill also provides district reorganization support grants.

For 2014-15 and 2015-16, LB967 incorporates the following changes to allocations and transfers from the Education Innovation Fund:
• adds $200,000 per year to the existing transfers to the Enhancing Excellence in Teaching Cash Fund, per LB842 by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis;
• limits distance education equipment and incentives to $2 million for 2014-15 and $2.5 million for 2015-16;
• transfers $1 million per year for reorganization support, per LB967;
• allocates $145,000 per year to continue the college admissions test pilot project for two additional years, per LB835 by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery; and
• allocates $335,000 for 2014-15 and an estimated $344,000 for 2015-16 for evaluating and improving career education programs to align with economic and workforce needs, per LB754 by Papillion Sen. Jim Smith.

Additional provisions related to the Education Innovation Fund will:
• allow lottery funds that are allocated to reorganization support grants and early childhood education prior to the termination of the Education Innovation Fund to be used after the fund terminates on June 30, 2016, per LB967 and LB984 by Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan;
• transfer unspent funds from other allocations and transfers to the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund on Aug. 1, 2016, per LB967 and LB984;
• transfer the remaining funds in the Excellence in Teaching Cash Fund to the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund on Aug. 1, 2016;
• retain $3 million to be transferred to the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund, which will receive lottery funds for education beginning July 1, 2016, per LB984; and
• further clarify the final deadlines for distance education incentives, per LB1069 by Sullivan.

Other provisions from LB984 add legislative intent for all children to have access to early childhood education programs in the year prior to kindergarten and for funding to be used for such access to programs.

Additional provisions from LB1069 will:
• replace outdated references to the North Central Association for postsecondary education;
• harmonize department of education requirements with the Nebraska Publications Clearinghouse requirements;
• specifically authorize school district expenditures related to programs and activities;
• require the Early Childhood Training Center to approve training for the Step Up to Quality Child Care Act;
• update special education definitions; and
• include private postsecondary career schools in any interstate reciprocity agreements for postsecondary distance education.

Provisions amended into LB967 that originated from LB958, a bill by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, reinstated the position of achievement coordinator in the state Department of Education.

The bill also incorporated provisions of LB129, originally introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar. The original per diem for board members of the Board of Educational Lands and Funds was $40 per meeting when it was eliminated effective Oct. 1, 2011. The bill reinstates the per diem and increases it to $50 per meeting. The board is required to meet monthly in Lincoln.

LB967 passed on a 44-0 vote.

Lawmakers also approved additional changes to the TEEOSA formula, which increases state aid to schools. Sullivan introduced LB725, which lowers the local effort rate (LER) used to calculate aid under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act.

The LER was scheduled to decrease from $1.03 to $1.00 for the 2015-16 school fiscal year. The bill implements the decrease for the 2014-15 school fiscal year and into the foreseeable future.

It also changes the calculation of the student growth adjustment correction to more accurately reflect the difference between the actual student growth and the estimated student growth.

Senators passed LB725 on a 44-0 vote.

Sullivan also introduced LB838, passed 45-0, which delayed the deadline from March 1 to April 10 for certifying state aid, budget authority and applicable allowable reserve percentages under TEEOSA for 2014.

Under LB546, introduced by Kolowski, revenue bond projects proposed by the state university or college systems no longer will require review and approval from the Legislature or Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education. Instead, bond projects will be allowed to proceed following Board of Regents approval.

The bill retains legislative approval for capital construction projects if any part of the funds used for repayment of the bonds comes from state general funds, funds received by the University of Nebraska or any state college, tuition or the state’s operating investment pool investment income.

Senators passed the bill on a 40-2 vote.

Other measures

The Education Committee introduced LB1103, passed 43-0, which authorizes members of the committee to conduct a strategic planning process to create a common statewide vision for education.

Members of the committee may conduct meetings, working sessions and focus groups to discuss aspirational goals, visionary objectives, meaningful priorities and practical strategies. The committee will hold at least three hearings throughout the state to receive testimony from the general public and submit a report to the clerk of the Legislature by Dec. 31, 2014.

Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford introduced LB740, passed 48-0, which allows veterans who have separated from a branch of the Armed Forces of the United States within the past two years to qualify for in-state tuition.

To receive residency status, a veteran must demonstrate intent to become a permanent resident of the state by registering to vote and obtaining a state driver’s license.

The bill does not apply to veterans who qualify for benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program, which pays the difference in tuition and fees not covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Spouses and dependents of Yellow Ribbon benefit recipients still are eligible under the bill.

LB682, introduced by Scheer, called on school districts with fewer than 650 students to enter into an allied system with at least three other districts of the same size to allow for more collaboration and shared remote courses.

Lawmakers gave unanimous consent on general file to bracket the bill, ending consideration of the bill for the session.

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