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When a lottery ticket is purchased in Nebraska, a portion of the money goes to the state of Nebraska; last year it amounted to $46.6 million. Our State Constitution requires that the proceeds are allocated as follows: the first $500 thousand plus 1% of the remainder goes into the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund, 44.5% to the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, 44.5% to education and 10% to the Nebraska State Fair.
Every five years the Legislature directs the Education Committee to make recommendations on how the 44.5% for education should be allocated to best advance the education priorities of the state. Last year, the distribution to education was $20.5 million.
Through June 2021, by statute, the education funds are allocated as follows:
Sixty-two percent goes into the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund, which provides financial aid to college undergraduates who qualify due to low family incomes and who already qualify for federal Pell grants. Mid-Plains Community College students are eligible for this financial aid.
Seventeen percent goes into the Department of Education Innovative Grant Fund. Approximately half of the money pays for the ACT test given to all juniors in Nebraska’s public schools. The remainder is awarded to individual schools through competitive innovative grant applications. In 2017, four districts and the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council were awarded grants. The idea is to encourage innovation in public education with the hope that good ideas will eventually spread throughout the state.
Nine percent goes into the Community College Gap Assistance Program Fund to provide financial aid for courses of study (welding, CDL license training, etc.), which are not eligible for federal Pell grants. To date, Mid-Plains Community College has received $250 thousand. So far the program has been underutilized by community colleges.
Eight percent goes into the Excellence in Teaching Cash Fund, which provides forgivable loans to teaching students working on a bachelor’s degree or teachers working on a master’s degree. Priority funding is given to students majoring in shortage areas, and loan forgiveness is provided for those teaching in a very sparse district or high poverty school. Wallace Public Schools is designated as a very sparse school district. Buffalo Elementary School and Adams Middle School in North Platte, as well as the Brady Elementary School and High School, all meet the poverty definition.
Three percent goes to distance education incentives which are meant to encourage school districts to share educational courses using technology.
One percent goes into the Expanded Learning Opportunity Grant (ELO) Fund which provides matching grants to afterschool programs. North Platte’s Kids Klub has received ELO grants, this year they received a grant for the next two-year period totaling $45,000.
The Education Committee must issue its report by December 31st with recommendations for the next five-year period. One of my priorities is to include funding for behavioral identification and intervention training at the building level across every district in the state to help create a safe classroom environment for teachers and students.
One challenge of the current grant structure is that small school districts don’t generally have access to dedicated, full-time, professional grant writers. The application packet for the 2017 innovative grants was 42 pages. Smaller school districts where administrators serve as principals, coaches, technology specialists and/or bus drivers shouldn’t be left at a disadvantage to receive the benefits of lottery proceeds. By giving direct aid to each school district, it would create fair access to lottery funds.
We held a hearing this last Friday at the Capitol to hear from the agencies responsible for managing the various funds, and a few other invited guests that could provide insight on what is (and isn’t) working well with the current allocation amounts. Now the hard work begins. The Committee is working to determine the best use of the lottery dollars and to make fiscally-responsible recommendations. It is essential that the Legislature pass a bill in 2020. Current and future funding recipients deserve to know what they can expect come July 2021 and need time to plan their programs accordingly.
A copy of the Committee’s report will be publicly available online at the end of the year.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.