Full Tuition Waivers Proposed for Nebraska Student Teachers

The program is proposed to run for six school years, through 2030-2031.

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LINCOLN — Nebraska student teachers could receive 100% tuition waivers beginning in 2025 through a legislative proposal under consideration this session.

Legislative Bill 953, proposed by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, would support students at the University of Nebraska and Nebraska State College System seeking a degree related to teaching, during the semester or semesters they are student teaching.

“Encouraging and supporting prospective teachers will help us rebuild our teacher population,” Kauth told the Education Committee at a Feb. 13 hearing on the bill.

Teacher shortage

The program is proposed to run for six school years, through 2030-31, and is estimated to cost about $15 million in lost tuition revenue.

This would be offset by annual appropriations of up to $3 million, which Kristen Hassebrook, a lobbyist for NU, said would ensure the cost is not passed on to other students or programs.

Paul Turman, chancellor of the state college system of Peru, Chadron and Wayne State Colleges, said some school districts, such as Omaha Public Schools, provide stipends to student teachers, but the practice is not widespread and is less likely in rural districts.

“Any type of legislation that begins to address ways to help incentivize student teachers in their final year of experiences is very warranted,” Turman said.

Todd Tripple of Millard Public Schools, which is in Kauth’s district, said student teachers’ final year is “invaluable” yet includes overlooked financial burdens.

‘Teaching is enough’

Winona Mitchell, a low-income, first-generation college student studying secondary education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said she works three jobs, similar to other students, but she said this isn’t feasible with student teaching.

“The workload of student teaching adds another layer of stress requiring a pre-service teacher to be thoughtful of their savings to pay their bills,” Mitchell said, testifying on behalf of the Nebraska State Education Association.

Deb Rasmussen of Lincoln, a teacher for 40 years and current president of the Lincoln Education Association, said when she was a student teacher in 1982, schools didn’t worry about finding teaching candidates because everyone wanted to do it.

“As an educator, teaching is enough,” Rasmussen said. “You can’t function with three other jobs because you’re trying to pay tuition.”

‘Part of the solution’

Kauth said that the state will not always be in a “teacher drought” and that state resources must be used sparingly. If LB 953 is still needed in six years, she said, legislators can consider  extending it at that point.

“It’s my hope that this will give prospective teachers a bit of breathing room while they’re completing their education,” Kauth said. “We want to encourage them to stay in the teaching program with the hope that they would be offered jobs once their student teaching is complete.”

Colby Coash, of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, said the Education Committee is looking at more than a dozen bills on teacher shortages but that LB 953 stands out.

“This bill really bubbled up to one of the top that we thought would make a big impact for this issue,” Coash said. “Hopefully this one can be part of the solution, which we all know we need to find.”

No one testified in opposition. The committee took no immediate action.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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