- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Lawmakers reached a compromise Thursday over how to split millions of dollars in Nebraska Lottery money for education grants and programs.

Senators advanced a new funding distribution bill with a 34-0, first-round vote, after changing the original measure to ensure K-12 schools receive a larger percentage of the money.

The largest recipient under the bill is the Nebraska Opportunity Grant program, which provides financial aid to low-income college students. K-12 schools would receive millions for “innovation grants.”

Lottery revenue varies by year, depending on ticket sales. Nebraska will have an estimated $27.7 million available in fiscal 2017 and $17.8 million the following year.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, chairwoman of the Education Committee, said lawmakers plan to conduct an interim study this year into college affordability.

“We will be looking at that and quite conceivably come up with some additional ideas that may be proposed next session on how we support needy students who want to pursue a higher education,” she said.

The bill would distribute 62 percent of the money to Nebraska Opportunity Grants for low-income college students; 20 percent for K-12 “innovation grants” to encourage new approaches to education; 9 percent for financial aid to community college students specializing in areas where Nebraska faces a labor shortage; 8 percent for forgivable loans to teachers who receive training in specialties that are needed; and 1 percent for extended-learning programs for high-need students.

The bill would sunset in five years, requiring lawmakers to re-evaluate how the money is divided.

Senators reached the agreement after Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk raised objections to the amount that would go to K-12 education.

“We have to provide them with some way to be innovative,” Scheer said.

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The bill is LB519

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