Teacher retention, 'school-to-prison' pipeline addressed

May 2, 2023, midnight ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Paying bonuses to keep teachers teaching, and trying to stop the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, are among ideas in an education bill making its way through the Legislature.

Teachers who continue to teach would get $2,500 state bonuses after their first, third, and fifth years. That’s just one portion of the multi-part education bill the Legislature considered Tuesday.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan said with people leaving the profession, there are about 900 to 1,000 teaching vacancies in Nebraska. Linehan said the proposal reflects what school administrators told her.

“They lose teachers between the second third year, third and fourth year. If they can keep them in that fifth and sixth year, finally, when they've moved up the chart -- maybe gotten their Master's degree -- their pay is increased, they can keep them. But they're losing way too many teachers in those first couple of years,” Linehan said.

The proposal also provides $5,000 grants to teachers who become certified to teach in high-need fields, including science, technology, engineering, math and special education. No one spoke against the proposal.

Another part of the education bill would prohibit school districts from suspending students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. Sen. Terrell McKinney said the goal is to stop schools from sending students, especially Black students, down the path to what he called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“I believe it prepares kids, in my opinion, especially kids that look like me, for the juvenile justice system, the child welfare system, and then the criminal justice system in our state pens (penitentiaries),” McKinney said.

The proposal does allow suspending students if they bring a deadly weapon to school. But for all others, it requires schools to provide an in-school alternative to suspension. Sen. John Arch said that’s a concern for him.

“I don't know if that means more staff. I don't know if that means a different location, a different facility, to even have the capability -- I know in some school districts there could be some quiet rooms where kids are taken to help them get their behavior under control. But if a child really needs to be removed from the classroom, I'm concerned that some schools do not have alternatives,” Arch said.

Despite his questions, Arch did not try to get the proposal removed from the bill.

Another provision that produced some debate was an amendment proposed by Sen. Brad von Gillern that requires schools to allow organizations, including the Boy Scouts, to recruit members in school once a year.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh was among those who opposed the requirement. She referred to the history of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, which has agreed to pay more than $2.4 billion to more than 80,000 victims.

“They might be doing a better job. They might have cleaned house, but the trauma still exists. The trauma that was inflicted upon members of that community still exists. And when people -- parents who might have been victims -- see that their school is required to allow that organization into their child's school, we are re- traumatizing that victim,” Cavanaugh said.

Von Gillern said as a result of the abuse scandal, the Scouts now have one of the best child protection training programs of any organization.

“As a former board member, I've taken the training twice and I've learned more each time, and it's changed my behavior around kids. It's taught me to make sure that any activities with the child involves more than one child and more than one adult to be present, and ensuring that there are safe environments for activities,” von Gillern said.

Von Gillern’s proposal also requires schools to permit recruiting by the Girl Scouts, Future Farmers of America, Big Brother and Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, and the Little League. His amendment was adopted on a vote of 35-2, and the bill itself appeared headed for first-round approval Tuesday evening.