Sen. Walz during legislative debate
Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont proposed an education bill during a Legislative floor debate on March 24. Photo courtesy of NET Nebraska.

A bill that would provide financial aid for low-income students advanced to the next round of debate in the Nebraska Legislature on March 24. 

Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont introduced LB529, which would set the distribution of lottery dollars for education programs from 2021-2022 through 2025-2026. Every five years, the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee reevaluates the use of lottery funds and decides which education programs will receive funding.

Since a previous version of this bill (LB920) failed to pass in 2020, there is an added sense of urgency to advance the bill before funding expires.

“Without timely action on this bill, the nearly 11 million [dollars] lottery allocation for the upcoming school year is in jeopardy, which will create a financial hardship on many Nebraska families and students,” Walz said. 

The largest allocation of funds, 58%, would go toward the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund. NOG is one of Nebraska’s need-based financial aid programs for low-income students pursuing post-secondary education. During the 2019-2020 school year, nearly 13,000 students received financial aid through NOG. Student need continues to increase at a rate that outpaces funding.

“We need to make sure that individuals that do have these high school diplomas can afford higher education in any way shape or form,” said Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, who voiced his support for the bill. “It’s programs like Nebraska Opportunity Grant [Fund] program that are trying to bridge that divide for our lowest-income students across our state.”

Another substantial portion of funds would go toward the Behavioral Training Cash Fund. 

The program requires administrators, teachers, school nurses and counselors to receive annual training on managing inappropriate student behavior. 

“An important part of this bill is that every school employee has to receive basic training so that they are aware of how they can appropriately and reasonably intervene to make sure students don’t harm each other, themselves, or anybody else in the school,” Walz said.

Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil also introduced an amendment that would add another component to the behavioral training requirement. The amendment would authorize teachers and school personnel to use reasonable physical intervention to manage student behavior to prevent them from inflicting harm.

“It’s only a small percentage of students in schools that are bullying other students, and being disruptive and causing incidents,” Murman said. “Teachers are often hesitant to intervene or take steps to react in an appropriate way, and are most times pressured to do nothing when there are serious disruptions in the classroom because schools are afraid of lawsuits.”

The amendment faced opposition from Walz, as well as Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha.

“Teachers should not have immunity; school administrators should not have immunity to just grab students and slam ‘em,” McKinney said. “I could tell you from experience, being a student and just knowing from experience – I coach youth for my community – teachers snatch up kids and slam ‘em. And they should not be provided with immunity.”

Following two hours of debate, senators voted 28-6 to advance LB529. Murman eventually withdrew his amendment but said he intends to introduce a similar amendment in the future.

Madeleine Grant is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying journalism. She enjoys reading, writing and travel. Madeleine is from Illinois and aspires to become a professional journalist or editor.