Nebraska Legislature

Senators unanimously sent to the governor a bill that would establish a program for military-connected students and their families.

LB5 was presented to Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday, April 12 after it passed in the Legislature with a unanimous 46-0 vote. Ricketts signed it into law April 20.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, would establish the Purple Star Schools program in Nebraska. The program is designed to support military-connected students and their families as they relocate to new schools across the country. Military-connected refers to students whose parent or guardian is an active duty service member or is in the National Guard or Reserves.

According to the Military Child Education Coalition®, the Purple Star Schools program is designed to assist schools with the educational and social-emotional challenges these children face as they transition between schools. The program helps students stay on track to be college, workforce and life-ready.

“One of the reasons that this program really spoke to me is because I have more veterans in my district than any district in Nebraska,” Blood said. “My district is right next to Offutt Air Force Base and so I have seen firsthand how constantly moving from base to base is so hard on those families.”

The bill would encourage, but not require, districts across the state to implement the program in their schools. Upon meeting the criteria outlined in the program, schools would be designated as “Purple Star” schools, indicating their military-friendly atmospheres.

“It was voted out [of the Education Committee] 8-0 for a reason,” Blood said. “It’s because it is going to set us apart from the states that don’t do that. And the schools like it because we’re putting guidelines in that help them do the job and do it well but also allows them to be designated as somebody who supports military families, so it’s a win-win for everybody involved.”

The Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to advocate for military-connected children and the educational challenges they face, is the national advocate for the Purple Star Schools program.

A 2020 report from MCEC® and the Center for Public Research and Leadership at Columbia University found that, on average, military-connected students move six to nine times between kindergarten and their high school graduation. 

Most Purple Star schools and districts, according to the report, already had programming in place for military families before they sought designation. The Purple Star Schools program lacks a central governing body, enabling each state/district to enact its own iteration of the program based on the outline components.

The five core program components are:

  • Designated Point-of-Contact: Schools should appoint a staff member to act as a liaison between military families and the school, easing military-connected students’ enrollment and acclimation period
  • Professional Development: Schools should train staff on the unique considerations for and needs of military-connected students.
  • Dedicated Webpage: Schools should develop a dedicated page on the school or district website with easily accessible information and resources for military-connected families.
  • Transition Programs: Schools should implement a transition program to welcome and socially acclimate incoming military-connected students. Some, but not all states, require that this program be student-led.
  • Military Recognition Events: Schools should host programming and events to celebrate and honor service members and military-connected students, families and community members. 

According to Dr. Becky Porter, MCEC president and CEO, the Purple Star Schools program began in Ohio in 2017 when a school superintendent began talking about how he could communicate the fact that his school system was military friendly.

Since 2017, 14 states across the country have developed and implemented their own criteria to put in place in their schools to support military-connected students.

“It’s spreading because it’s a great idea,” Porter said. “We’ve seen that it’s effective in really making military-connected students and families feel that they are valued and that a community recognizes what they do, what their service is and how they can contribute to our national security.”

There are two ways for states to enact the Purple Star program, according to Porter. States can either pass legislation or set up a program or policy through their department of education. She said the legislative approach opens the possibility of budget allocations, taking the pressure off of schools to try and find the necessary funds.

Porter said she was encouraged that the Nebraska bill got unanimous support.

Blood was confident in Gov. Ricketts’ support of LB5. She referenced a press release from Ricketts earlier this year where he stated that Nebraska is on its way to becoming a top state in the country for military servicemembers and veterans.

“When I craft legislation, it’s not to compete with other states but to make our state better,” Blood said. “Nebraska wants to be a number one state for veterans. This is just another piece of that puzzle.”

Blood also received support for the bill during its hearing in February from public and private schools across Nebraska and organizations such as the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, the Nebraska State Education Association and the Nebraska School Counselor Association.

As part of the program, the Nebraska State Board of Education will establish criteria for applications, which may be accepted yearly or bi-yearly, depending on the board.

Blood said she would like people to understand how hard it is on military families to move from base to base and start over each time. With LB5, the transition can be made that much easier for students.

“Not only is it great for our veterans, but this is the right thing to do, ethically,” Blood said. “We see a problem, we can help solve the problem. That’s part of what we’re supposed to do with good government.”

Senior Journalism and Broadcasting double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln