LINCOLN — Dropping out of high school would become much more difficult next year under a bill passed Tuesday by the Nebraska Legislature.
Legislative Bill 996 would allow students to drop out before age 18 only if they can prove they have to work to support their family or they cannot attend school because of illness.
Lawmakers were divided over the bill, passing it 28-20.
State Sen. John Wightman of Lexington, the sponsor, said it was in a student's best interest to earn a high school diploma.
Opponents argued that the measure interferes with parental rights and that forcing older teenagers to stay in school would create problems for schools.
Currently, students may drop out at age 16 with a notarized release from a parent or guardian.
Under the bill, a student's parent or guardian would have to file a request for the student to leave school officially, and the student and parent or guardian would have to attend an exit interview with school officials.
The officials would have to outline the financial consequences of not finishing high school and provide information about alternative educational opportunites.
Preventing dropouts is one goal of Nebraska's P-16 initiative and President Barack Obama's education plan to boost student achievement and better prepare youths for jobs or college.
In the 2009-10 school year, 1,911 kids who were 16 or older dropped out of Nebraska schools. Senators have questioned how many actually had parental permission to drop out.
Also Tuesday, lawmakers passed a bill barring state officials from attempting to privatize child welfare services again in all areas except Omaha.
LB 961, passed 48-0, was one of two key child welfare bills winning final approval. The measure allows the Nebraska Families Collaborative, the state's last private contractor, to continue managing cases in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
It requires state workers to manage cases in all other areas of the state and bars similar contracts.
The Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee would review the Omaha-area contract by April 2013 and recommend whether to continue it.
LB 961 also caps the number of cases that state or private case managers would be allowed to handle. The caps match the caseload goals announced earlier this year by the Department of Health and Human Services.
A second child welfare measure, passed 48-0, tightens legislative oversight of the child welfare budget. LB 949 requires HHS to report on its goals and performance as part of the budget process.
Both bills grew out of a legislative investigation into the state's troubled privatization initiative. Four of the five private contractors have lost or dropped their contracts since the initiative began in November 2009.
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