College and career readiness funding stalls

School districts would have received funding for implementing college and career readiness programs under a bill that failed to advance from general file April 20.

LB343, introduced by Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski, would have enabled school districts to apply for reimbursement beginning July 2016 for each student who successfully completes a designated program of excellence, dual-enrollment course or career readiness program.

Kolowski said the proposal is unique because the funding would be dependent upon students’ success.

“Unlike nearly every federal and state program, this plan is not about body count—it’s about mind count,” he said. “This is an educational game changer for Nebraska.”

An Education Committee amendment, adopted 25-6, stated legislative intent to appropriate $2 million for the program in fiscal year 2016-17, $5 million in FY2017-18, $7 million in FY2018-19 and $10 million in FY 2019-2020.

The amendment also incorporated provisions of LB402, originally introduced by Lincoln Sen. Roy Baker, which would allocate funding to school districts and educational service units that provide qualified distance education courses through the ESU Coordinating Council.

Each district and ESU would receive one distance education unit for each qualified course provided. The total amount of available funding would be divided by the number of qualified courses to determine a value per unit, not to exceed $1,000 each. Funding then would be distributed based on a district or ESU’s distance education units.

Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook supported the amendment, saying it would provide students with career experience and marketability.

“This is an important direction in which to go in light of the growing concerns over the increasing costs of colleges and graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt,” she said. “Students can walk right out of the doors of their high schools and into gainful employment and insurance benefits.”

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids supported the concepts contained within the amended bill, but ultimately opposed it. She said that the funding should come through the Tax Equity and Educational Support Opportunities Act (TEEOSA).

“Our students need to be prepared for college or be able to step into careers when they graduate, but by and large we’re seeing school districts already doing this across the state,” she said. “By running it through TEEOSA, we could more accurately track what school districts are spending to [achieve] these things that schools think are important.”

The bill failed to advance to select file on a 24-11 vote. It is unlikely to be debated again this session.

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