Public school supporters are touting several bills filed this session, touching on various aspects of public education.
Stand for Schools Executive Director Ann Hunter-Pirtal says the percentage of school children qualifying for reduced and free lunches has doubled in many Nebraska districts and the state has only fully funded public schools three out of the last 16 years.
“So, we’ve got growing needs, shrinking budgets, and an over-reliance on local property taxes and that exacerbates inequality, over-burdens taxpayers, and hurts our most vulnerable kids,” Hunter-Pirtal said during a news conference held in the Capitol Rotunda.
Bills filed this session would expand mental health care for children, expand meals offered to children to include breakfast, reimburse schools which provide pre-Kindergarten classes, and offer career training for students.
Nebraska Association of School Boards Executive Director John Spatz said he has often heard that government needs to be run more like a business.
“And I don’t necessarily disagree with that,” Spatz said. “But when you look at a business, or a state, or a public subdivision, every dollar spent is not the same. You have investments and you have expenses. We have to invest more in the state of Nebraska to lower our expenses over the long period of time,”
Spatz calls increasing the public funding of education an investment that could reduce other state spending, such as on prisons.
Among the bills:
Sen. Lynn Walz of Omaha sponsors a bill that would provide a social worker for each of Nebraska’s 19 Educational Service Units to connect students with mental health and behavioral health services.
Walz also sponsors The Child Hunger and Workforce Readiness Act, which would provide free school breakfast and lunch to children now receiving reduce-priced school lunches.
Sen. John McCollister proposes to expand school lunch programs beyond the school year to year-round.
Sen. Rich Kolowski of Omaha sponsors legislation to fully reimburse school districts for currently enrolled kindergarten students. Kolowski also proposes the state fund special education at 80% of a school district’s costs; the current level is 48%
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln sponsors a resolution calling on Congress to fully fund special education.
Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha proposes making matching grants available for youth employment and career training.