EducationSession Review 2023

Session Review: Education

The state will direct approximately $300 million per year in additional funding to K-12 public schools under a bill advanced by the Education Committee this session.

Under LB583, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders at the request of Gov. Jim Pillen, the state will pay public school districts $1,500 in foundation aid per student beginning with school fiscal year 2023-24.

The bill, passed on a vote of 44-0, also requires the state Department of Education to reimburse each school district 80 percent of the total allowable excess costs for all special education programs and support services in the following school year.

Foundation aid and special education reimbursements will be paid from the new Education Future Fund created under LB818, sponsored by La Vista Sen. John Arch at the request of the governor.

The bill requires the state treasurer to transfer $1 billion from the state’s general fund to the Education Future Fund in fiscal year 2023-24 and $250 million in FY2024-25.

Omnibus bill

The committee also advanced a proposal distributing state lottery funds to education programs.

LB705, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, allocates state lottery funds to a number of new and existing education programs for FY2024-25 through FY2028-29, including behavioral awareness training for school personnel and grants for teachers seeking qualification to teach dual-credit courses.

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

Under one new program, which will receive 8 percent, the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council will ensure that annual behavioral awareness training is available statewide beginning in school year 2024-25. Beginning with the 2026-27 school year, each school district will ensure that administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses and counselors receive the training.

The bill also requires 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 are 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 will receive 2 percent of the lottery funds. Under the new program, the department will 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.

LB705 allocates 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 will 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 are allocated to the new Door to College Scholarship Act, under which the commission will 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 must 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.

LB705 also includes provisions of several measures aimed at addressing Nebraska’s teacher shortage, school safety and other educational concerns.

Teacher recruitment and retention

The amended provisions of LB385, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, 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 may apply for a $2,500 grant.

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

The amended provisions of LB603, also sponsored by Linehan, 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 must 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 must 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, introduced by Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington, create the Nebraska Teacher Apprenticeship Program. An employee of a public or private school or an individual who has a contract to begin working for a public or private school at the start of the school year may apply.

In order to earn a teaching certificate under the program, an applicant is required to complete a one-year apprenticeship in a classroom, have a bachelor’s degree and pass subject area and pedagogy examinations created by the state Department of Education.

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.

Other provisions originally included in LB516 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.

Under the amended provisions of LB632, introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha, an elementary school may not suspend a student in pre-kindergarten through second grade unless the student brings a deadly weapon on school grounds. McKinney’s proposal also requires school districts to develop a policy that includes disciplinary measures inside the school as an alternative to suspension.

Provisions of LB774, sponsored by Vargas, 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 allows a student’s parent or guardian to request a hearing examiner other than the one recommended by the superintendent. It also requires school districts to give suspended students an opportunity to complete classwork and homework missed during the suspension.

Additional K-12 measures

Under the amended provisions of LB153, introduced by DeBoer, school districts may 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.

Provisions of LB201, introduced by Vargas, require public high school students to complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid prior to graduating, beginning with school year 2024-25.

A student’s parent or legal guardian, or the school principal or the principal’s designee, may authorize the student to decline to complete and submit a FAFSA. A student who is 19 or older or an emancipated minor also may decline.

The amended provisions of LB372, sponsored by Murman, 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 must 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, 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 requires 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 requires each district to provide the department certain information relating to all option enrollment applications rejected by the district each year.

Also included are provisions of the following proposals:
• LB520, sponsored by Walz, which requires 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;
• LB585, introduced by Sen. Jana Hughes of Seward, which expands a current requirement that certain school personnel receive suicide awareness and prevention training each year;
• LB647, introduced by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, which requires the department to purchase and loan textbooks — including digital, electronic or online resources — to children enrolled in kindergarten to twelfth grade of an approved private school;
• LB648, also sponsored by McDonnell, which authorizes 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;
• LB708, introduced by Arch, which requires 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;
• LB787, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, which requires 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; and
• LB805, sponsored by Elkhorn Sen. R. Brad von Gillern, which requires 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.

Postsecondary education measures

Under the amended provisions of LB222, sponsored by Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha, a public college or university may 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 may inquire about or consider that information to the extent required by state or federal law when voluntarily submitted by an applicant.

The restriction does 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.

The provisions of LB356, introduced by Walz, make technical changes to the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Act, updating a term to match a federal change related to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and clarifying 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 is considered a resident student.

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

LB705 passed on a vote of 47-0.

Other measures

The state will collect data on students identified as having dyslexia under a bill advanced by the committee this session.

LB298, introduced by Linehan and passed 44-0, requires school districts to provide certain information on dyslexia to the state Department of Education each year. The department will compile the information and provide an annual report to the Legislature.

The required information includes the number of students in each public school tested for a specific learning disability in the area of reading, including tests that identify characteristics of dyslexia, and the results of those tests.

As amended, the bill includes provisions of LB630, sponsored by McKinney. The measure requires Nebraska school boards to adopt a written dress code and grooming policy to be implemented at the start of the 2025-26 school year that is consistent with a model policy developed by the department.

The model policy may not:
• target, disproportionately impact, discriminate or be applied in a discriminatory manner against any students on the basis of race, religion, sex, disability or national origin;
• prohibit a student from wearing attire, including religious attire, natural and protective hairstyles, adornments or other characteristics associated with race, national origin or religion; or
• require a student’s hair to be permanently or temporarily altered.

LB298 also includes provisions of LB413, sponsored by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, authorizing Nebraska to join the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, which is intended to streamline the licensure process for teachers when moving between member states.

A bill intended to ensure that voters must approve certain bonds issued to pay for the construction of school buildings remains on select file.

LB299, introduced by Linehan, would prohibit any joint entity that includes a Nebraska school district or educational service unit from issuing bonds without approval from a majority of their qualified voters in a special election. The restriction would apply to joint public entities created on or after the bill’s effective date.

The committee advanced a bill intended to maximize participation in a federal reimbursement program that allows school districts with high poverty rates to serve free breakfast and lunch to all of their students, but it was not scheduled for first-round debate.

LB285, introduced by Walz, would require public schools that serve a certain percentage of students in poverty to opt in to the program, called the community eligibility provision.

Under the bill’s provisions, the state Department of Education could waive the requirement if a district shows that participation in the CEP is not “financially viable.” The department would provide technical assistance to those schools to help them adopt the CEP in the future.

Nebraska students would be required to use school bathrooms and play on school sports teams based on their sex assigned at birth rather than their gender identity under another bill heard by the committee.

Under LB575, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, school athletic teams or sports would be designated as for males, men or boys; females, women or girls; or coed or mixed.

The bill also would require Nebraska public and private schools to designate each group bathroom and locker room in school buildings as either for use by “biological” females or males, as determined by chromosomes and anatomy.

LB575 remains in committee.

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