I am writing to express my disappointment that the Board of Education has asked the Education Committee of the Legislature to amend Neb. Rev. Stat. §79-734(2) (LB 1066, sec. 7) to severely limit the educational materials that private school children can access under the Textbook Loan Program. I also am disturbed that the Nebraska Department of Education has suggested to the legislature that funding for the Textbook Loan Program could be utilized for the Department’s technology initiative, thereby eliminating the benefit that private school students receive under the Textbook Loan Program.
The Textbook Loan Program is one of few government benefits that private school families receive in return for our education tax dollars. Therefore, I urge you and the other members of the Board of Education to approve the Petition for a Rules Change submitted by the Nebraska Catholic Conference on January 8, 2016. The Textbook Loan Program should be implemented as intended, to give private school children access to the same educational materials as are used by public school children in the same district.
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Textbook Loan Program.
First, I’m a huge fan of Nebraska’s private and parochial schools. I commend you for making the sacrifices necessary to send your child to private school.
Second, the State Board of Education in no way is seeking to have the Legislature limit the educational materials that private school children may be loaned by public school districts under the textbook loan statute. Quite the opposite – we are seeking legislative revisions to more clearly support school districts in expanding what they loan to private school students under the loan program to encompass subscription-based licenses to access textbook content on-line from textbook companies.
Third, by law (Neb. Rev. Stat. §79-734 and Appropriations Bill LB 657, Laws 2015), the Textbook Loan Program is funded by a specific appropriation by the Legislature and distributed by the Department as aid to school districts for the sole purpose of purchasing and loaning textbooks for private school students. By law, the Department cannot use these funds for any other purpose.
Neither LB 10661, the Department’s technical assistance bill; nor LB 10262, Senator Morfield’s education technology bill; nor any other bill proposed or supported by the Department include language which would change or eliminate funding for the Textbook Loan Program.
Fourth, the publishing industry is replacing traditional hardbound textbooks “with a ‘subscription’ of hard copy ‘work texts,’ a series of write-in textbooks that are issued annually for six years.” What needs to be done to update §79-734 and Textbook Loan Program to address this change?
We believe that Rule 4 could be reasonably construed to encompass electronic materials and work texts under the definition of “textbooks” in section 002.03. Our conclusion herein is premised on the fundamental concept that §79-734(2) establishes a loan program, and that any electronic materials are subject to the operational requirements set out in Rule 4 relating to loaning, returning, and maintaining separate inventory, etc., of items.
(2) School boards and boards of education shall purchase and loan textbooks to all children who are enrolled in kindergarten to grade twelve of a public school and, upon individual request, to children who are enrolled in kindergarten to grade twelve of a private school which is approved for continued legal operation under rules and regulations established by the State Board of Education pursuant to subdivision (5)(c) of section 79-318.
The following are not to be considered textbooks: library books, teacher’s editions, workbooks and other similar consumable materials, and any book or material designated for classroom, and not individual use (e.g. “Big Books” and the like).
While it’s understandable that teacher’s editions are not be loaned to public or private school students, ruling out “workbooks and other similar consumable materials” draws a distinction between what can be loaned to public school students and private school students that is not intended in §79-734(2). If workbooks can’t be loaned to private school students because they are consumable, by the same logic they can’t be loaned to public school students.
LB 1066 attempts to clarify the situation, though the meaning of reusable workbook is not clear to me:
For purposes of this subsection, textbook means a reusable set of printed sheets of paper that are bound together inside a cover which is used in a course of study in a school by a student, and includes any of the versions of a textbook provided by a publisher or manufacturer under section 79-734.01 to a school district for student use, including any reusable workbooks or manuals whether bound or in another medium provided to the school district.
Is a workbook reusable or consumable? If consumable can it be loaned? Again, the suggested definition of textbook applies to materials loaned to both public and private school students.
I support the Petition for a Rules Change6 submitted by the Nebraska Catholic Conference7. In the spirit of §79-734(2), it simplifies Rule 4 by eliminating the distinction between what can be loaned to public school and private school students. The Petition will be considered at our next regular meeting on March 4, 2016.
This article represents my personal view, not that of the State Board of Education. Feel free to contact me at Glen.Flint@nebraska.gov. View the Nebraska Department of Education website at www.education.ne.gov to learn more about education in our state.