NSEA Supports, Opposes Bills

NSEA members, leaders and staff testified or delivered written testimony on these bills at legislative committee hearings in February and March. Committees will vote whether to advance each bill to the full legislature for consideration and may amend the bills along the way. NSEA is watching more than 160 individual bills related to public education.

Multicultural Education
NSEA testified in support of LB359, which mandates all school districts to incorporate multicultural studies into all programs at the elementary, middle and secondary levels, with assistance from a full-time multicultural education consultant at the Nebraska Department of Education.

Special Education Transitions
LB527 would begin providing transition services to students with special needs at age 14 rather than age 16. NSEA supports the bill, which will better position these students to transition to life after high school. “These two years of school would provide families with more time for planning and decision making. This also allows advocates two more important years to learn a whole new vocabulary of service providers, file for disability services and learn about services that are available for young adults who don’t have the capacity for work,” NSEA testimony said.

Community Schools Act
Through LB538, two community schools from each Congressional district would receive $150,000 for five consecutive years to fund a pilot community-based initiative matching the needs of students and families with resources in their communities. NSEA supports the program that would be funded with revenue from solar and wind energy providers renting school lands.

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity
NSEA supports LB120, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity relative to employment. It adds these factors to the list already in state law, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status and national origin.

Health Department Control
During the pandemic, many school districts had trouble with accurately reporting virus cases, utilizing mitigation strategies and conducting contact tracing. Reporting was made more difficult by local health departments, who first had to seek approval from the state before implementing new measures.

LB637 would give local health departments the authority to make decisions about local responses to health emergencies.

“These local authorities are in the best situation to see first-hand how quickly situations are escalating and are nimble enough to institute measures that are in the best interest of public health and safety in their area,” NSEA testimony said.

Purple Star Program
The Purple Star Program, found in LB5, provides schools an opportunity to showcase their actions to care for students of military families. NSEA supports LB5, which designates a staff member as a military point of contact to ease transitions. Participating schools will have information available online for families to use in making decisions, especially when they may be transitioning from assignments in other countries or time zones and may struggle to contact the school during working hours.

The program also includes a student-led transition program, giving young people the chance to be ambassadors for their school and foster a positive social transition. Staff will be provided professional development so they are ready to adapt instruction and understand how best to meet military families’ needs.

YRTC Changes
LB426 allows the Department of Health and Human Services to contract for completion of a cost analysis of capital improvements and structural changes to the facilities at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center Kearney location and to report the results to the legislature. NSEA supports LB426, which will allow the legislature to see what resources are needed.

NSEA also supports LR25, which would require the legislature’s Executive Board to appoint a YRTC Oversight Committee, extending the committee created in 2020.

Social Security
“Social Security and pension income are intended to allow elderly and disabled citizens to retire with dignity and to keep them out of poverty. These funds should not be used as a source of revenue for the state,” NSEA said in support of LB64 and LB237, which would join Nebraska with the 37 states and the District of Columbia that have no income tax or do not include Social Security benefits in their calculation for taxable income.

‘Erin’s Law’
NSEA supports LB28, modeled after “Erin’s Law,” already in place in 37 states. It requires students in grades kindergarten through fifth to spend four hours per year in body awareness training, as well as teacher training, as a preventative method for reducing incidents of child sexual abuse. According to studies by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.

“It is imperative that our students are given the information – and even the vocabulary – necessary to keep themselves safe and know who and how to reach out to if they are being abused,” NSEA testimony said.

Intermittent Substitution
“For years, school districts have struggled to navigate the federal law that allows retired teachers to return as a substitute to the school system they retired from on an ‘intermittent basis’ for 180 days following retirement – with no definition of ‘intermittent,’” NSEA said in testimony.

NSEA supports LB146, which clearly defines intermittent as no more than eight days in a calendar month. This change will provide school districts clarity and flexibility to be able to utilize retired teachers from the first day of school.

Obscenity Defense
NSEA opposes LB282, a bill that repeals longstanding defense for teachers in grades kindergarten through 12th who unknowingly use obscene material in their teaching. The bill changes State Statute 28-813, which currently protects a teacher who may unknowingly use material within a textbook, a website or a video that has been approved by their school district. The bill inserts the word “postsecondary” into the statute, negating the defense for K-12 teachers.

“The NSEA certainly does not condone the use of obscene material in our schools,” testimony said. “However, we are cognizant of the fact that the definition of what constitutes obscenity changes over time, is different from person to person and means different things in different communities across the state.”

The testimony noted several existing remedies in state statute to remove a teacher who inappropriately uses unapproved curriculum materials, including loss of their teaching certificate and criminal penalties.

Paid Internships
Students with the experience of paid internships receive more job offers, can expect an increased earning power and are more prepared to enter the workforce than those who do not have the same opportunity. NSEA supports LB632, which would provide opportunities for low-income and first-generation college students and give them a chance to earn money to support themselves while completing educational training.

“We also hope future legislative bills would extend this same paid experience opportunity to student teachers who are preparing for a career in the classroom,” NSEA testimony said.

Workers’ Compensation
LB207 changes the waiting period to begin receiving benefits under the workers’ compensation law from seven to three days. It also reduces the number of days to start receiving retroactive benefits for those initial days away from work from six weeks to two weeks. In support of LB207,

NSEA said few Nebraska school districts allow for injury leave in their contracts, meaning employees must use personal leave for injuries sustained while on the job until workers’ compensation kicks in.

Essential Workers
Currently, claims related to COVID-19 are not compensable under Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Law because COVID-19 does not qualify as an “accident” or “occupational disease.” If passed, LB441 would make COVID-19 claims by essential employees, which include public and private school employees, compensable. NSEA supports LB441, which creates the legal presumption that a compensable “accident” occurs when an essential worker is either: confirmed COVID-19 positive, dies from COVID-19 or was quarantined at the direction of their employer.

Indoor Air Quality
NSEA wrote in support of LB630, which creates a pilot program to study the efficacy of commercial air filters in classrooms to remove common pollutants and particulate matter and to study their impact on academic and behavioral performance.

Firearm Possession
LB417 would allow possession of a firearm on school grounds by any off-duty peace officer or law enforcement officer. NSEA opposes LB417 because of its broad definition of “peace officer.” In Nebraska, that definition extends to include “any person authorized to direct or regulate traffic.”

“We believe allowing more adults to bring weapons onto school property will only make the job more difficult for legitimate school security officials as they would have to discern, possibly at a moment’s notice, whether an armed school visitor they encounter actually has the authority to be on campus with a deadly weapon,” NSEA testimony said.

Mental Health Training
NSEA supports LB87, which puts a focus on mental health first aid support and training for schools receiving an innovation grant. The bill would help expand teachers’ toolkits and resources for supporting students as they become successful learners.

529 Plans
Allowing 529 account contributions to pay for K-12 education, as proposed in LB681, allows users to bypass paying taxes in order to pay for private school. NSEA opposes LB681, which would drain millions of dollars from state revenue each year, further harming funding for public schools.

“The primary reason to have a 529 is because you can invest in education over nearly two decades, slowly growing principal – and interest on those funds – for postsecondary education,” NSEA wrote to the Revenue Committee. “Working poor and middle-class families would see little to no tax benefit for their contributions. To see even $500 in tax relief, a family would need to save more than $9,000 a year in a 529 account, which means that really the only people who would benefit from this are the wealthiest Nebraskans – those who have the least need for this kind of benefit.”

Minimum Wage Increase
NSEA supports LB480, which raises the minimum wage to $25 in yearly increments starting in January 2022 and ending in January 2032. This will help students whose families earn minimum wage, as well as educators like cafeteria employees, custodians, paraeducators, other education support professionals and some college instructors who do not earn a living wage.

Classroom Funding
NSEA is opposed to LR21CA, a Constitutional amendment that would require the State of Nebraska to pay all classroom expenses related to public elementary and secondary schools.

The proposal comes with too many unknowns, and the cost of operating a classroom in different parts of the state varies widely. The proposal does not address how the bill would affect federal reimbursement of special education expenses, or if schools would still be able to fill funding gaps using property tax funding. NSEA is concerned with how the state would be able to pay classroom expenses without making major changes to the current state aid system.