EducationSession Review 2024

Session Review: Education

Lawmakers approved two omnibus education packages this session that allow certain school districts to permit security personnel to carry firearms on school grounds, provide funding for computer science teacher training and boost funding for teacher recruitment and retention programs.

Omnibus measures

LB1329, introduced by Glenvil Sen. Dave Murman, served as one of two Education Committee omnibus bills. The measure updates the Nebraska Career Scholarship Act by transferring its administration from the state Department of Economic Development to the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

Additionally, the bill expands the definition of “first-time freshman” to include dual enrollment graduates, updates scholarship eligibility to a 3.0 GPA or higher and aligns reporting with census data to consider all eligible programs, retention and graduation data.

LB1329 also modifies language regarding State Board of Education policies on truancy and allows school boards to determine the length of behavioral intervention training for employees.
The bill includes provisions of several other measures considered by the committee.
Provisions of Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer’s LB1339 permit certain school districts to authorize security personnel and off-duty law enforcement to carry firearms on school grounds and at school-sponsored activities.

Participating school districts are required to have a written policy regarding qualifications, training and the appropriate use of force. The provision does not apply to public elementary or secondary schools in Class III, IV or V school districts.

Other measures included in LB1329 are:
● LB231, introduced by Lincoln Sen. George Dungan, which directs school districts to provide written communication to parents or guardians regarding excessive absences;
● LB550, sponsored by Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln, which allows K-12 students to attend a public school outside their district once in elementary, middle and high school, for a total of three times before graduation;
● LB673, introduced by Blair Sen. Ben Hansen, which provides grants to schools that adopt a policy to provide emergency response mapping data to law enforcement agencies;
● LB855, sponsored by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, which prohibits school districts from contracting with a collection agency to assess or collect interest, fees or other monetary penalties for outstanding debts on a student’s school lunch or breakfast account;
● LB962, introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, which requires public schools to exclusively use the Gall-Peters or AuthaGraph projection map for teaching purposes in the classroom;
● LB1012, sponsored by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, which allows the Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Fund to be used for abatement projects to address school safety infrastructure concerns; and
● LB1385, introduced by Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, which streamlines the approval application process for teaching certificates and creates reciprocity among states for their issuance.

Senators passed LB1329 on a 40-0 vote.

Walz’s LB1284 was utilized as the second committee omnibus package. The measure provides funding and resources to implement the provisions of the Computer Science and Technology Education Act, which the Legislature passed in 2022.

LB1284, approved on a 42-0 vote, requires the state Department of Education to employ or contract with computer science specialists to develop and deliver computer science educator training for teachers. The training will be accessible to all teachers in the state, including those seeking supplemental computer science certification.

The bill also establishes the Computer Science and Technology Education Fund, which the department will administer. The fund will receive $1 million from the Education Future Fund by June 30, 2025, and $500,000 annually if matching private funds are raised.

Also included are provisions of Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan’s LB1253, which provide grants for dyslexia research, and LB1254, which provides $1.8 million in fiscal year 2025-26 to reading improvement mentorship programs.

Other measures included in the package are:
● LB985, sponsored by Linehan, which clarifies that eligibility for the Nebraska Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act also requires that an applicant teach in the area of their high-need certification;
● LB986, also introduced by Linehan, which amends the Teach in Nebraska Today Act to increase the maximum grant total awarded each year from $5 million to $10 million;
● LB1005, sponsored by Walz, which provides technical changes to carry out provisions of a 2023 Education Committee omnibus bill;
● LB1014, also introduced by Walz, which reimburses school districts and educational service units for the cost of contracting with outside agencies to cover required services of school psychologists; and
● LB1050, sponsored by Conrad, which creates a pilot program administered by the state Department of Education to provide school districts with free menstrual products in FY2025-26.

Funding and reimbursement

Several proposals pertaining to school funding and teacher reimbursement were considered this year.

LB299, introduced by Linehan and passed 45-0, prohibits 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 applies to joint public entities created on or after the bill’s effective date.

If the bond question fails, it cannot be submitted to voters again for at least six months.

LB1331, introduced by Murman, was gutted and replaced with an amended version of Wayne’s LB1231. The proposal was meant to serve as a companion bill to Linehan’s LB388, the governor’s failed property tax proposal. The two bills aimed to generate state revenue to fund additional property tax relief by implementing the Nebraska Education Formula and increasing yearly per-student foundation aid from $1,500 to $3,000.

LB1331 advanced to select file but was not scheduled for second-round debate.

Also advanced but not debated on select file was Walz’s LB285. The bill would have required public schools with a certain percentage of students in poverty to opt into a federal program called Community Eligibility Provision, which offers reimbursement to school districts with high poverty rates to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students.

Under LB1052, also introduced by Walz, K-12 teachers from any approved or accredited public, private, denominational or parochial school could have applied for reimbursement of up to $300 annually for school supplies purchased with personal funds. The committee advanced the bill to general file but it was not scheduled for debate.

Also advanced to general file but not scheduled for debate was LB878. Introduced by Bellevue Sen. Rick Holdcroft, the bill would have prohibited schools and educational service units from conducting special elections for a bond issue, a property tax levy or to exceed a property tax levy limitation. Instead, such questions could have appeared on ballots only during statewide general elections in even-numbered years.

Other measures

Senators approved a proposal that loosens regulations for Nebraska private, parochial, denominational, group or home-based schools that choose not to meet accreditation requirements. Such schools commonly are referred to as “exempt.”

LB1027, introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements and passed 44-1, simplifies the application process to attend an exempt school and aligns it with the application process for public schools. Under the bill, only one parent must apply to the state Department of Education for their child to attend an exempt school. Current law requires both parents or guardians to apply.

The bill removes the department’s authority to visit or inspect exempt schools and proctor achievement testing of exempt students. It also removes subject matter testing requirements for exempt school employees, aligning the requirements with those of public schoolteachers.

A proposal to restrict students from using school bathrooms and participating in school sports that correspond to their sex assigned at birth rather than their gender identity stalled on general file.

Kauth, sponsor of LB575, offered a cloture motion after four hours of debate, which failed on a 31-15 vote. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Two measures related to postsecondary institutions were considered by the committee but not advanced for debate this year.

LB1330, introduced by Murman, would have barred any public postsecondary educational institution from requiring staff to participate in diversity, equity and inclusion programs or to spend public funds on any DEI program.

LB1064, introduced by Central City Sen. Loren Lippincott, would have eliminated tenure protection for professors at the University of Nebraska, the Nebraska State College System and the state’s community colleges.

Lippincott also proposed two bills this year pertaining to religious expression in schools that were not advanced by the committee.

LB1034 would have prohibited school districts from punishing employees for engaging in private religious expression while on duty at a school. Among other provisions, the bill would have allowed staff to engage in private religious expressions such as prayer, religious discussion or study with other employees during non-instruction time and to sponsor a student religious club or organization.

LB1065 would have permitted a chaplain to perform the duties of a school counselor without a certificate to teach, administer or perform other special services. Chaplains would have been required to undergo a criminal history record check and be subject to the same eligibility restrictions as school counselors based on the results.

Bookmark and Share