Conservative lawmakers in Nebraska introduced several bills on Monday to intertwine religion with public school curriculum.
The bills presented to the state Legislature’s education committee include a measure to give parents more control over their local school’s library books and curriculum, and another bill that would allow public school students to receive school credit for attending religious classes outside school.
Another proposal would change school funding to include private school tuition while at the same time prohibiting the state from interfering in private schools’ curriculum or religious beliefs.
Republican state Sen. Dave Murman, chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, has revived his parental rights bill that would make it easier for parents to object to curriculum and remove controversial books from school libraries. The bill, introduced last year, was among those that stalled as conservatives centered their attention on passing a bill to allow taxpayer money to be used to fund private school scholarships. The measure, which was signed into law in June, will be in a ballot referendum in which voters will be asked in November if they want to repeal it.
Murman took over as chairman of the committee last year when Republicans ousted a Democratic former schoolteacher from the position.
The bills introduced Monday are part of a nationwide effort by Republicans to root out Critical Race Theory and sexually explicit material from public school classrooms and libraries, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
Republican Sen. Steve Erdman’s school funding bill would create a $5 billion education funding measure to move costs from local property taxes to the state’s general fund by setting up an education savings account for each student in the state. These funds would be distributed by the state treasurer to support a student’s education at their local public school or to help cover the cost of private school tuition or homeschooling.
Some critics took issue with a section of the bill stating that the state “is strictly forbidden from altering the curriculum or beliefs of a private school.”
GOP State Sen. Loren Lippincott’s bill would give school credit to public school students who attend religious classes outside of school during school hours. He said allowing religious education would help students “develop a stronger sense of morality” and would help lead to “fewer behavioral issues in schools.”
Middle school and high school students could participate, and the credit program would be open to all religions, as long as it “does not undeniably promote licentiousness or practices that are inconsistent with school policy.”
Some bills presented before the committee on Monday did not seek to intertwine religion with education. One bill proposed by GOP Sen. Kathleen Kauth would make it easier for teachers certified in other states to teach in Nebraska as the state faces a teacher shortage.
Kauth’s bill would allow out-of-state teachers to gain Nebraska certification by taking a knowledge-testing exam they would be required to pass. The bill was criticized by some Nebraska teachers as being too lenient, but the measure received bipartisan support and Republican Gov. Jim Pillen testified in favor of it on Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.