NSEA's legislative goals for the 2013 session of the Nebraska Legislature included enhancing the state's investment in public education to ensure strong schools, strong communities and a strong economy. In support of these goals, NSEA targeted specific areas for its legislative lobbying agenda:
- Provide state and local funding that supports quality public education for every student;
- Maintain prudent management and funding of the state school employees’ retirement plan;
- Ensure the protection of collective bargaining rights; and
- Promote and protect public education programs that benefit Nebraska students, teachers, higher education faculty and education support professionals.
Provide State and Local Funding that Supports Quality Public Education
LB 407 provided a 6.4 percent increase - $54.5 million - in aid for 2013-14 over 2012-13. Individual gains and losses for school districts vary based on changes in overall student enrollment, property valuations, and formula changes. It is significant that we were able to retain the retention of the teacher education allowance, while adding teacher education aid for districts that do not receive equalization funding. The combination of those two formula factors represents about $32 million in equalization and teacher education aid. NSEA worked diligently to ensure that the teacher education allowance remained in the state aid formula. The new teacher education aid program is the reason many small rural districts will show small increases in aid this year. This summer, the Education Committee will study the teacher education allowance and teacher education aid as part of its interim studies in Legislative Resolution 212, introduced by Sen. Rick Kolowski.
LB 410 is the annual technical bill from the State Department of Education. It affects statutes dealing with preschool through high school education. In addition to harmonizing statute changes and eliminating obsolete statute provisions, substantive modifications include the following: eliminates provisions requiring the State Department of Education to reimburse option school districts for transportation expenses paid to parents of option students; changes the calculation of the student growth adjustment in the state aid formula (TEEOSA) to use average daily membership rather formula students in the calculation; removes an exclusion from the budget limitation for school districts for expenditures to pay another district for the transfer of land from a district; increases the minimum and maximum amounts that are to be maintained for the Tuition Recovery Cash Fund; and provides for the State Department of Education to use the annual financial report from the immediately preceding fiscal year to compute school aid (TEEOSA) if a school district fails to file the annual finance report on or before the date required by law.
LB 495 provides a new appropriation of $1 million per year for the three-year period from the fund for the Early Childhood Education Endowment. The Endowment provides grants for programs serving at-risk children from birth to age 3. It also provides a $10,000 appropriation to fund the Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children for the three-year period. LB 495 shifts the funding for several administrative programs within the State Department of Education from lottery funds to general funds. Intent language is included in the bill stating that general funds will be provided for the student information system, Center for Student Leadership and Extending Learning Act, multicultural education program, and, certification investigations beginning in FY14. The change increases general fund expenditures by $806,236 in FY14 and $816,464 in FY15. Pursuant to current law, aid funding ($3,365,962) for the Early Childhood Grant Program is to be shifted back to the General Fund in FY14 after being paid with lottery proceeds in FY12 and FY13. The bill requires $1,665,962 of the $3.36 million for the grant program to be shifted back to general funds in FY14 through FY16. The remaining $1.7 million expended for the program is to continue to be funded with lottery proceeds. This results in a savings for the General Fund of a like amount. In addition, LB 495 provides a $50,000 increase in aid funds for the program in FY14, $150,000 increase in FY15 and $250,000 increase in FY16.
LB 497 reallocates lottery proceeds beginning in FY2016-17. Pursuant to current law, 24.75% of lottery proceeds are transferred to the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund and 19.75% are deposited in the Education Innovation Fund. The bill eliminates the transfer of lottery proceeds to the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund and the Education Innovation Fund on June 30, 2016. It provides for these lottery proceeds to be deposited in a newly created Nebraska Education Improvement Fund beginning July 1, 2016. LB 497 also terminates the Education Innovation Fund and the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund on June 30, 2016 and transfers the fund balances to the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund. Any allocations from the Education Innovation Fund for activities prior to FY17 are not to obligate the fund for any payments after June, 30, 2016. Funding for loans pursuant to the Attracting Excellence to Teaching Program also terminates on June 30, 2016. The bill requires the Education Committee of the Legislature to study potential uses of lottery funds. The factors to be studied are outlined in the bill. Study recommendations shall be reported on or before December 31, 2014.
LR 155 creates a Tax Modernization Committee. The state tax system has not had a major update since the 1960’s. The recommendations made by this Committee may ultimately affect how income, goods and services will be taxed in Nebraska. Correspondingly, LR155 may affect funding, at the state level, of public education through the collection of taxes. The Tax Modernization Committee will be comprised of these members: the members of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee (Hadley, Schumacher, Hansen, B. Harr, Janssen, McCoy, Pirsch); two members of the Legislature, as selected by the Executive Board of the Legislative Council; and the chairs of the Appropriations Committee (Mello), Health and Human Services Committee (Campbell), Education Committee (Sullivan), Agriculture Committee (Schilz), and Planning Committee (Harms). As chair of the Revenue Committee, Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley will chair the Tax Modernization Committee. Hadley said members will travel to five or six different communities in Nebraska to hear public input. Members are planning to look at sales, income and property taxes, and what can be done to stimulate business and population growth.
Maintain Prudent Management and Funding of the School Employees’ Retirement Plan
LB 553 maintains solvency of the State School Employees Retirement Plan and the Omaha School Employees Retirement Plan through a number of changes. The bill increases the state contribution rate from one to two percent of pay, meaning state funding for the school retirement plans will increase by about $20 million annually. The bill eliminates all contribution sunsets scheduled in 2017 for employees, employers and the state, thus continuing the school employee contribution rate at 9.78 percent of pay with the employer match of 101 percent. The OPS contribution rate for employees is increased to 9.78 percent of pay as well. The bill creates an adjusted benefit schedule for school employees hired after July 1, 2013. The schedule for new plan members would determine the average final salary over the five highest year salaries, rather than the current three highest year periods. The cost of living adjustment (COLA) cap would be set at 1 percent for new employees during their retirement years.
LB 263 changes to the state retirement plans that are primarily Internal Revenue Code updates and technical and clarifying changes to the Judges, State Patrol, Class V School, School, State and County Employees Retirement Plans, and the Public Employees Retirement Board responsibilities. Many of the changes were recommendations of the 2012 Compliance Audit conducted on the state-administered retirement plans.
Promote and Protect Public Education Programs that Benefit Education in Nebraska
LB 331 modifies the income qualifications for the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Act, which provides need-based aid to undergraduate students in eligible postsecondary educational institutions and clarifies that when a postsecondary institution receives an authorization to operate on a continuing basis that such authorization continues indefinitely. It allows interstate reciprocity agreements regarding postsecondary distance education and allows fees for such agreements and for applications to modify recurrent authorizations to operate.
LB 366 creates the Diploma of High School Equivalency Assistance Act. The bill provides intent language that $750,000 of general funds be appropriated as state aid in FY2013-14 and FY2014-15 to provide assistance to institutions which offer high school equivalency programs in order to defray the costs borne by participants in the programs. Institutions are defined as a state agency, school district or a community college. Institutions offering high school equivalency programs shall receive aid from the State Department of Education for: (1) each participant enrolled in a high school equivalency program in the most recently completed fiscal year; (2) each enrolled student who took an initial examination in the most recently completed fiscal year; and, (3) each student not enrolled in the program who takes the examination in the most recently completed fiscal year. The bill also provides a one-time payment of $85,550 of cash funds from the Education Innovation Fund (lottery funds) in FY2013-14 for institutions providing a high school equivalency program to acquire and upgrade equipment and software necessary to administer examinations for diplomas of high school equivalency. The upgrades are necessary to comply with national standards, which take effect in 2014.
LB 561 makes changes in the juvenile justice system. The bill does the following: 1) after July 1, 2013, the Office of Juvenile Services within the Department of Health and Human Services will only have responsibility for the Youth Rehabilitation Center at Kearney and Geneva; 2) expands the Nebraska Juvenile Service Delivery Project statewide in a three-phase process with the transfer of such funds to take place on July 1, 2013, January 1, 2014, and July 1, 2014, with one-third of such funds being transferred on each date; 3) creates the Community-Based Juvenile Services Aid Program to replace the County Juvenile Services Aid Program and requires a director to be appointed; 4) establishes the position of Director of Juvenile Diversion Programs within the Crime Commission; 5) states intent to appropriate funding to the Community-Based Juvenile Services Aid Program; 6) allows social impact projects to qualify under the New Markets Job Growth Investment Act and 7) adds a new member to the Jail Standards Board.