Not So Splendid

Legislature Offers Menu of Vouchers, Charters, Rule of 90, Among ‘Not-So-Magnificent Seven’

After a testy January start to the 2017 session of the Legislature, state senators began to focus on introduction of new legislation. That focus appears to put teachers and public education on a bumpy course for the next four months.

Proposed bills clearly target funding for K-12 and higher education; teacher certification; collective bargaining; organizing by public sector unions; and more. Seven topics, in particular, are targeted in a series of bills that stand out as bad ideas. With apologies to fans of the western movie genre, you might call them the ‘Not-So-Magnificent Seven.’

The seven topics, along with scores of other education-related bills, will cause a long, difficult session for senators, educators and, ultimately, children.

“This will be a long, contentious session,” said NSEA President Nancy Fulton. “We really need members to step up this year. Every contact with a senator has the potential to swing a vote, to make a difference.”

The ‘Not-So-Magnificent Seven’ would:

  • Replace the retirement Rule of 85 with the Rule of 90 for new school employees (LB415);
  • Essentially allow high school grads to serve as substitute teachers (LB 568, LB650);
  • Allow voucher (LB608) and charter school (LB630) schemes into Nebraska;
  • Require every third grade student to pass a reading proficiency test before advancing to fourth grade (LB568);
  • Eliminate the only state-funded program designed to enhance K-12 teacher professionalism (LB214);
  • Eliminate payroll dues deduction for Association membership for teachers, police and firefighters (LB503); and
  • Grade K-12 schools on a ‘A’ to ‘F’ basis.

While NSEA will work hard to make certain none of these bills pass, it will take the assistance of every member, in every corner of the state, to turn back these bad ideas.

Master Teacher Program at Risk

Among the top items on the List of Bad Ideas is elimination of the Master Teacher Program, the lone state-funded program to enhance teacher skills and knowledge.

The governor’s proposed budget package includes an immediate cut of all program funds, $470,000 in both this fiscal year and next. In addition, Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran has proposed LB214, complete elimination of the statutory language supporting the Master Teacher Act.

Ralston Spanish teacher Jamie Honke told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee that the program promotes excellence.

“This investment in educators affects every student they teach, every young person they mentor, and every new teacher who follows their example and says to themselves, ‘that is the kind of teacher I want to be,’” she said.

Lincoln Spanish teacher Nila Jacobsen said Nebraska must systematically increase the quality of the state’s teaching force if policymakers wish to prepare students for the work world.

“Accomplished teaching must be the norm, not the exception,” she said. “The Master Teacher Program is a pathway for Nebraska educators to maximize their students’ positive outcomes as they gain new skills.”

Cuts to Breakfast Program

Senators would lengthen the probationary status for community college teachers from two to three years. NSEA opposes that bill, LB124. NSEA also reviewed:

  • Breakfast Funding: LB22, the governor’s deficit appropriations bill, would reduce funding for school breakfast programs by four percent. NSEA opposes.
  • Retirement Plans Merger: LB548 would merge the Omaha retirement plan with the state retirement plan that serves the remainder of Nebraska school employees. NSEA opposes the merger, until the Omaha plan is in a stronger position.
  • State Aid Certification: LB119 would push the formal certification of state from the current March 1 date to June 1. Delaying certification would cause problems elsewhere.

For instance, state statute dictates that school districts must make staffing decisions by April 15 each year. To make such decisions without final state aid numbers would be impossible.

A delay in certification would also cause havoc with a state-mandated bargaining schedule that has operated smoothly for the past four years. Statute requires bargaining to be complete 25 days after state aid is certified, but appeals to the Commission of Industrial Relations must be completed by Sept. 15. Delaying certification to June 1 would allow bargaining to extend until June 26, and would provide about

10 weeks for the CIR to receive a petition to resolve an unsettled collective bargaining dispute. Very few, if any, CIR wage cases have been resolved in that short of a time frame.

NSEA proposes an April 1 date, or delaying changes to the state aid formula until next session. At the very least, NSEA urges an interim study that would take into account the schedules of appropriations, school budgeting and collective bargaining.