Every state in this region funds a loan forgiveness program to assist certain individuals with their college debts. These programs most commonly target help for graduates entering a specific profession such as education or health care.
A nine-year-old constitutional dispute in Kansas over how, and how much, the state spends on its schools may finally be coming to an end. In early April, Gov. Laura Kelly signed SB 16, which provides Kansas public schools with an additional $90 million a year.
This year, Nebraska Sen. Julie Slama took a lead role in updating her state’s 70-year-old law on civics education. She had some experience from the not-so-distant past to guide that work — the time she spent as a student herself. The 23-year-old senator (one of the youngest people ever to serve in the Unicameral Legislature) still fondly recalls those civics classes and how her teachers approached lessons on government and citizenship.
“It wasn’t about memorization of dates and [historical] figures,” Slama says. “It was about the role of being a citizen, about discussing the issues of the day. From that, you learn that people can come to different conclusions about those issues, that disagreement is part of the process. And you learn to engage respectfully.”
But are most young people being exposed to a rich, meaningful civics curriculum?
Slama worries that many are not, based on her more recent experiences working with students as a track coach and as a counselor for the American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls State. Too many young people, she says, don’t know basic facts, such as the three branches of government, and aren’t equipped with the skills to be informed, active citizens.
She’s hoping this year’s passage of LB 399 will strengthen the curriculum offered in Nebraska schools. Her work on the bill reflects a national trend; across the country, state legislators have been exploring ways to put a greater emphasis on civics in schools, and to perhaps teach it in a different way.
In April, Indiana submitted to the federal government its list of subject areas in education that have a statewide shortage of teachers. The list was long (close to 15 subject areas) and varied, from a dearth of music and arts teachers, to the need for more people to teach special education, math and science, and English.
“Sadly, ‘Indiana’ and ‘teacher shortage’ have become synonymous terms,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said in releasing the state’s most recent analysis of shortages.
Legislators are hoping a series of recently signed bills will help fix the problem, by addressing two oft-cited causes: high turnover and low pay.
Starting in August, North Dakota stores will have the option of being open for business on Sunday mornings, the result of a legislative change this year that repealed the state’s longstanding “blue” laws. HB 1097 was signed in March by Gov. Doug Burgum. He hailed the measure as supporting “freedom, fairness and local control,” as well as a way to help the state’s Main Street businesses compete with online retailers.