NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Jim Smith

Sen. Jim Smith

District 14

A bill I introduced to provide funds for public schools to invest in career and technical education had a hearing before the Education Committee on Tuesday. LB 754 would allocate $2 million to the Department of Education to help Nebraska schools improve programs aligned with the state’s workforce needs. It is my firm belief that technical trades can be incorporated into secondary education to equip students with the skills to be successful, contributing members of the workforce.

Successful career education programs have been shown to increase student achievement and lower dropout rates. Furthermore, they prepare students for further education and careers, and promote economic development by providing business and companies with a skilled workforce. We can no longer ignore the importance of providing these opportunities in Nebraska.

Currently, the State of Nebraska provides no funding for career education programs at the K-12 level. Other states, including Kansas and South Dakota, have recently allocated millions of dollars to career and technical education. LB 754 asks for a small, but important investment for the future of our education system, our students, and our state.

On Tuesday, I introduced LB 865 to the Legislature’s Education Committee. LB 865 would eliminate the Learning Community’s common levy and address a funding deficiency of the current Learning Community law. I introduced this legislation after spending hours meeting with school board members, superintendents, city officials, and Learning Community Coordinating Council members over the interim. The message I consistently took away from those conversations was that the common levy is simply not working.

While the intention of the common levy is to help children and families in poverty, it is clear the funds are not going where they are most needed. Because of the current funding formula, the 11 Learning Community school districts have collectively missed out on 3.5 million dollars in state aid each year. LB 865 will allow the Legislature to find a better method to address the education needs of students living in poverty and help local school districts to regain control over their tax dollars.

I’m hopeful the Education Committee will look favorably on LB 865. At the very least, I believe the hearing was eye-opening for the members of the committee who have not had much experience with the Learning Community. It is clear there is a problem, and this legislation should prompt a discussion on what the Legislature can do to provide quality education for children in every school district.

The second session of the 103rd Legislature convened on Wednesday with a number of important issues already facing the Unicameral. A short time-frame—only 60 working days—means my colleagues and I will have a busy session with much to accomplish by mid-April.

Among the most important issues the Legislature will discuss this session is taxes. Tax reform continues to be on the forefront after an interim study on the topic this summer. A number of bills have already been introduced on this subject, and I expect more proposals to come. I look forward to taking on this issue and addressing the needed changes to Nebraska’s tax policy.

Along with tax reform, corrections, healthcare, and education policy are set to become priorities this session. The Legislature will take up prison overcrowding, the good time law, and juvenile justice concerns. A discussion on Medicaid expansion will return for a second time as Nebraska grapples with the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers will also likely revisit education funding. With big issues dominating the session, I still hope to continue to make progress addressing the deficiencies of the Learning Community.

The next 57 days will be busy, and I look forward to the progress the session will yield. It’s an honor to be representing you in the Nebraska Legislature for a fourth year. Please feel free to contact my office with your concerns about the issues facing you and your family.

Sen. Jim Smith

District 14
Room #1116
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2730
Email: jsmith@leg.ne.gov
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