Session Review: Education

Measures to create a school safety reporting system, establish a statewide farm-to-school program and require schools to create health plans for students with seizure disorders were among the proposals advanced by the Education Committee this session.

Health and safety

Lawmakers voted 41-5 to approve a statewide school safety reporting program.

LB322, sponsored by Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams, requires the state Department of Education to establish a statewide, anonymous reporting system to support threat assessment teams with the goal of reducing violent incidents.

The reporting system — the Safe2HelpNE report line — allows students, school staff, parents and community members to report information about concerning behavior or possible harm to people or property anonymously and free of charge by telephone, mobile app, website or email.

The report line will be available to any public or nonpublic school that has a threat assessment team and maintains a current list of contact information for at least five team members designated to receive alerts from report line staff 24/7.

Report line staff immediately will alert the appropriate threat assessment team of any concern directly regarding or likely to impact a student, school staff member or school property.

Senators also passed a bill that requires each public, private, denominational and parochial school in Nebraska to create individualized health plans for students with seizure disorders.

Under LB639, introduced by Sen. Jen Day of Omaha and passed on a 44-3 vote, a school with an enrolled student who has a seizure disorder and requires medication must have at least one employee at each school building who is trained to recognize and respond to seizures and administer medications.

Before a school employee may administer seizure medication, a student’s parent or guardian must provide a written authorization, a written statement from the student’s doctor and the medication in its unopened, sealed package with the intact label affixed by the dispensing pharmacy.

A parent or guardian also must collaborate with school employees to create a written, individualized health plan to acknowledge and prepare for the health care needs of a student diagnosed with a seizure disorder. Each student’s seizure action plan must be distributed to any school personnel or volunteers responsible for them.

LB639 also requires each certificated school employee to review seizure disorder materials at least once every two school years beginning in school year 2022-23.

The state will install high-quality air filters in certain classrooms to study their effect on student test scores and behavior under a bill passed on a vote of 44-2.

LB630, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Eliot Bostar, requires the department to develop and implement a two-year pilot program to study the efficacy of commercial air filters to remove air pollution from classrooms and their impact on academic performance and behavior.

The pilot program will include 50 schools, with six participating classrooms of students in grades 3 through 8 in each school. Half of the classrooms will be assigned to the control group.

Participation is voluntary, and no more than 50 percent of participating schools will be from the same school district. The department will submit the study results to the Legislature.

A bill that would require Nebraska public schools to adopt programs intended to curb child sexual abuse remains on select file.

As introduced by Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, LB281 would require schools to adopt a child sexual abuse prevention program beginning with the 2022-23 school year for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. As amended on general file, programs would extend through the twelfth grade.

LB281 advanced to the second round of consideration but was not scheduled for further debate.

Cleanup bill, lottery funds

Lawmakers voted 48-0 to pass a measure that makes several technical changes to education law and extends current allocations of lottery funds to education-related programs.

LB528, sponsored by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, extends the sunset date to school year 2020-21 for a grant program meant to improve teacher effectiveness, expands the list of programs eligible for the Community College Gap Assistance Program and changes eligibility requirements for the Access College Early Scholarship Program.

The bill also specifies 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, each school board must 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 will include one of those numbers on new student ID cards beginning with the 2022-23 academic year.

LB528 includes provisions of LB3, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, that require the state Department of Education to establish and maintain a website where the public may access school financial data at the statewide and district levels.

Also included are provisions of LB558, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, that 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.

Finally, LB528 extends the current allocation of state lottery funds to several education-related programs, including need-based college scholarships for Nebraska students, through fiscal year 2023-24.

The committee advanced a bill that would allocate a portion of lottery funds to behavioral awareness and intervention training, but it stalled on the second round of debate after a failed cloture motion.

LB529, introduced by Walz, would allocate lottery funds to more than a dozen education programs for fiscal years 2021-22 through 2025-26.

Under one new program, school districts would ensure that teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school nurses and counselors receive evidence-based behavioral awareness and intervention training beginning with the 2023-24 school year.

After four hours of select file debate, Walz filed a motion to invoke cloture, which ends debate and forces a vote on the bill and any pending amendments. The motion failed on a vote of 28-11. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Postsecondary education

Nebraska home-school students are eligible for in-state tuition at Nebraska postsecondary educational institutions under a bill approved by lawmakers on a vote of 43-0.

Under LB92, introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, students who complete the program of instruction offered by a home school are considered residents for tuition purposes.

The bill also prohibits a publicly funded college or university in Nebraska from discriminating against any student with regard to determinations of residency status or scholarship eligibility on the basis of having been home-schooled.

Another measure advanced by the committee makes certain AmeriCorp participants eligible for in-state tuition.

Under LB197, introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha and passed on a 43-0 vote, a student who qualifies for an AmeriCorps award is considered a resident for tuition purposes at Nebraska postsecondary educational institutions.

Certain uniformed service members will receive priority college admission under another bill approved by lawmakers.

LB669, also introduced by Vargas, requires Nebraska’s public postsecondary institutions to accept military and veteran students who apply to enroll as undergraduates if they otherwise meet admissions requirements.

A student who graduates from a Nebraska high school on or after Jan. 1, 2022, signs enlistment papers to serve in a uniformed service and meets other requirements related to the length of their service is eligible.

Nebraska high school graduates and individuals who graduated from high school in another state on or after Jan. 1, 2002, and served in a uniformed service while assigned to a location in Nebraska also qualify if they received an honorable discharge.

LB669 passed on a vote of 38-0 and took effect immediately.

Curriculum requirements

A bill intended to improve the personal finance skills of Nebraska students passed on a vote of 49-0.

LB452, introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, requires each school district to include financial literacy in its elementary and middle school instructional program. The bill also requires all students to complete at least one half-credit high school course in personal finance or financial literacy as a graduation requirement, a provision originally introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru in LB327.

Under LB452, financial literacy includes knowledge and skills regarding budget and financial record keeping, taxes, debt, savings, risk management, insurance, investment strategies and establishing, building, maintaining and monitoring credit.

The State Board of Education will adopt measurable academic content standards for financial literacy as part of the state’s social studies standards. Beginning Dec. 31, 2024, each school district is required to provide an annual financial literacy status report to its school board.

The committee advanced a proposal that would require Nebraska public and private schools to incorporate multicultural education into their instructional programs, but it was not scheduled for general file debate.

Currently, each public school district is required to incorporate into their K-12 curriculum studies related to the culture, history and contributions of African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans.

Under LB359, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, multicultural education also would incorporate the perspectives of those groups and reflect the “diverse races and cultures of all persons in Nebraska and the United States of America.”

LB359 also would require the department to hire a full-time consultant trained and experienced in the field of multicultural education.

Student discipline

Nebraska will track and report individual student discipline data under a bill passed on a vote of 46-0.

LB154, introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, requires the State Board of Education to implement a statewide system for tracking individual student discipline by type and by demographic characteristics including race, poverty, high mobility, attendance, disability and limited English proficiency.

Under the bill, each school district is required to report any individual student act resulting in suspension or expulsion, assignment to an alternative school or alternative learning program, the use of physical contact with a student or the restraint or seclusion of a student.

LB154 also requires the board to include student discipline as an indicator in an accountability system used to measure the performance of individual public schools and school districts. The state Department of Education will analyze and report on student discipline in a currently required annual report on student achievement.

A measure that would change several provisions in the Student Discipline Act related to suspension, expulsion and mandatory reassignment advanced from committee but was not scheduled for first-round debate.

LB198, sponsored by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, would require that a student be given an opportunity to complete any classwork and homework missed during a suspension, including examinations.

It also would require school districts to reinstate a student after an expulsion and accept certain non-duplicative, grade-appropriate credits earned by the student during the expulsion.

Among other changes, LB198 would modify procedures for student discipline hearings and require a principal to decide student discipline by long-term suspension, expulsion or mandatory reassignment within two school days after learning of the alleged misconduct.

The committee indefinitely postponed a bill that would have authorized teachers and other school personnel to use reasonable physical intervention to manage student behavior to protect the student or another person from physical injury

LB673, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, also would have required school districts to provide behavioral awareness and intervention training to teachers, administrators and certain other school staff.

Other measures

A Nebraska farm-to-school program will provide locally grown and minimally processed food to elementary and secondary school students under a proposal approved this session.

LB396, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth and passed on a 48-0 vote, requires the state Department of Education to hire a coordinator to administer the program, which also may provide students with hands-on learning activities, such as farm visits, cooking demonstrations and school gardening and composting programs.

The coordinator will partner with public agencies and nonprofits on a public engagement campaign and build a communication network that links farmers and schools.

They also will encourage schools to develop and improve their nutrition plans using locally grown or processed food and provide technical assistance to school food services staff, farmers, processors and distributors regarding the demand for and availability of Nebraska food products.

Lawmakers voted 46-0 to pass a bill intended to speed the issuance of teaching certificates to military spouses.

LB389, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts, requires the State Board of Education to issue a certificate or permit to a military spouse who, among other requirements, holds a valid certificate or permit currently in force in another state to teach, administer or provide special services.

Under the bill, the certificate or permit for a military spouse is valid for at least three years and includes the same or similar endorsements to teach in all subject areas for which the applicant had been certified in the other state if Nebraska offers a similar endorsement.

The committee also advanced a bill under which Nebraska schools that take measures to welcome military-connected students may receive a special designation.

Under LB5, introduced by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue and passed on a vote of 46-0, a public, private or parochial school may apply to the State Board of Education for an annual “purple star school” designation.

To qualify, a school must designate a staff member as a military liaison who will serve as a school’s point of contact for military-connected students and their families.

Among other criteria, a qualifying school must offer online resources for military-connected students and their families, maintain a student-led program to assist military-connected students in transitioning into the school and offer training for staff members on issues related to military-connected students.

Nebraska public schools will provide transition services to each student with a developmental disability two years sooner under a bill passed on a vote of 48-0.

Schools are required to provide a coordinated set of activities that help prepare qualified students for life after high school. Under LB527, sponsored by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, schools will provide transition services to those students beginning when they turn 14 rather than 16.

A commission would conduct an in-depth review of Nebraska public elementary and secondary school financing under a bill that remains on select file.

LB132, introduced by Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington, would create a 16-member school finance review commission within the state Department of Education.

The commission would examine methods of financing public schools that would provide equitable educational opportunities across the state and offer alternatives to a heavy reliance on property taxes.

Finally, the committee advanced a bill to general file that would allow home-schooled students to participate in a public school district’s extracurricular activities without also enrolling in the district’s classes.

Current state law requires public school boards to allow students enrolled in private, denominational, parochial or home schools to enroll part-time as long as they are residents of the district.

LB210, introduced by Glenvil Sen. Dave Murman, would allow those students to enroll part-time for all courses selected by the students. It also would require school boards to establish policies and procedures to allow home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities to the same extent and subject to the same requirements as students enrolled in the public school governed by the board.

The bill was not scheduled for debate this session.

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