The Legislature’s Education Committee heard ideas Tuesday on how to help low income students go to College, how to help employers fill the H-3 Gap (High Wage, High Skill, High Demand), and how to use 529 College Savings Plans to encourage higher education in general.

LB 544, sponsored by Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, would establish a Nebraska 529 College Savings Plan for every baby born in the State, and seed it with $100.  The bill was introduced at the request of newly elected State Treasurer John Murante.

“Kids with from $100 to $500 of College savings, or any College savings by the time they’re in 8th grade, are 3 times more likely to go to college and 4 times more likely to graduate from College” said Murante.  He said the $2.5 Million per year cost would be picked up by private donations.

LB 547, introduced by Lincoln Senator Anna Wishart, would create a matching program for contributions to 529 plans for children of low and middle income families.

“Every child between 200% and 300% of the Federal Poverty level will be eligible to have a dollar-for-dollar match for every dollar that goes into their 529 account” said Wishart.  “For children whose family falls below 200% of the Federal Poverty level, there will be a 2-1 match.”

Wishart said helping more low and moderate income students go to College will help solve one of the State’s biggest problems.

“We have a Workforce Development crisis here in Nebraska.  We have more jobs than we have people to fill them.  This legislation will increase awareness and the ability of students of any age to afford the education the qualify them for the jobs that Nebraska needs filled.”

Kids from low income families who want to go into technical careers would be helped by a scholarship bill sponsored by Lincoln Senator Kate Bolz. Over 2-thousand such students received scholarships for technical college credit while in high school in the past year, and her bill, LB 563, would take the next step.

“Providing a scholarship when they decide to pursue a Certificate, Diploma, or Associate’s Degree at a Community College or the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture.”

Bolz says he program would cost about $250-thousand dollars next year, but also said part of the funding provided by the State Lottery is being under-utilized and could potentially cover some of the cost.  Lincoln School Board Member Kathy Danek told the committee Tuesday that local technical training is good for local economies.

“We know that students who complete their Community College Degree or Career Professional Certification close to home are more likely to stay and live in their local communities.”

LB 639, sponsored by Senator John Stinner of Scottsbluff, would combine funds from colleges, businesses, and the state for students majoring in “H-3” (high wage, high skill, and high demand) careers. University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds endorsed it.  “We are exporting high paying jobs because of an inability to hire talent.”

Bruce Bohrer of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce said employers need it.  “We are faced with a critical unmet need in our State related to the talent pipeline for H-3 occupations.  The fiscal note to Stinner’s bill says it would cost the taxpayers around $30 thousand dollars a year.

The Education Committee will consider each bill and decide whether to advance it to the full Legislature for debate.

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