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Nebraska lawmakers advance two major education bills | Politics

LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers advanced two bills Thursday aimed at altering the state’s education system — one to change the curriculum, and the other to add incentives to recruit and retain teachers.

Legislative Bill 888 cleared the second of three rounds of debate after being amended twice. As advanced earlier, the measure would require education about “the Holocaust and other acts of genocide” to be included in Nebraska’s social studies standards.

Legislative Bill 1218 cleared the first of three rounds of debate, and was also amended twice. The bill aims to provide financial incentives for teachers, and would ease testing requirements for teachers in training.

State Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, who introduced LB 888, has said she did so to ensure that future generations learn the lessons of the Holocaust and the potential outcomes of unchecked hate. The Holocaust refers to the organized killing of about 6 million European Jews and millions of other people by the Nazis and their allies during World War II.

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On Thursday, lawmakers added an amendment spelling out that the other acts of genocide to be covered would be those recognized by the United States government or the United Nations as of Jan. 1, 2022.

Among those events would be the killings of Tutsi people in Rwanda in 1994, Bosnian people in Srebrenica in 1993 and Armenian people in Turkey in 1915. Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard offered the amendment as a guide to schools.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha offered a second amendment that would require education about “slavery, lynching and racial massacres in the United States.” He said he supports the idea of Holocaust education but believes schools should also acknowledge the massacres that have happened closer to home.

Examples could include events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, when White mobs killed as many as 300 Black residents of what was known as Black Wall Street, and the Trail of Tears, when hundreds of thousands of Native Americans were forcibly removed from their eastern homelands and thousands died during the journey to territory west of the Mississippi River.

LB 1218 would create the Teach in Nebraska Today Program, which would provide educators with proven financial need up to $5,000 a year for up to five years, and would provide teachers in training with up to $1,000 of student loan forgiveness after they complete a specialized teaching program, known as Attracting Excellence to Teaching. 

The bill is one of the Education Committee’s priorities this year, as lawmakers look to address the state’s teacher shortage.

The original bill also intended to ease requirements around the basic skills test prospective teachers must take before getting hired, but an amendment by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard removed that from the legislation.

Erdman’s amendment will require new teachers to pass a basic skills test — the Praxis test — before they receive their teacher certification. This is technically already state law, but due to a discrepancy with the State Board of Education, it is not the same process most new teachers in Nebraska currently follow.

An Education Committee staff member confirmed that a 2003 bill changed state law to reflect Erdman’s amendment, but the State Board of Education never changed its rules and regulations. This means that new teachers are required to pass the Praxis test halfway through their college education before they can enter teacher college.

LB 1218 includes language requiring that the State Board of Education change its rules and regulations.

Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, the Education Committee chair, ultimately supported Erdman’s amendment but said she wasn’t “excited about it.” She, along with several other senators, said the Praxis test is a major barrier to educators entering the profession, and she said she would prefer the state offer other avenues for teachers to get certified.

“We’ve got to eliminate these barriers,” said Sen. Mike Jacobson of North Platte.

Walz said she supported Erdman’s amendment because she wants LB 1218 to pass so the state can provide financial aid to teachers as soon as possible. However, she vowed to continue working on easing regulations on entrance barriers.

“We didn’t want to pass up that opportunity,” Walz said.

Correction: This story has been updated with additional details about LB 1218’s student loan forgiveness program. It also clarifies that the financial incentives are based on financial need.