The Legislature advanced a bill Tuesday that would require public school students to fill out an application for financial aid for college, called FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The bill (LB1089), introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would also allow a parent or guardian to decline to submit such an application, or a principal to authorize a student declining to fill out the form. Each school would have to report how many students submit the applications.
Filling out the FAFSA would be a graduation requirement, he said, unless the requirement is waived.
Vargas said if the bill passes and is signed into law, Nebraska would be the fourth state to require the financial aid applications. Louisiana requires FAFSA completion and has the highest rate of completion, he said, accompanied by an increase in high school graduation and college attendance.
An analysis showed the high school class of 2018 missed out on $2.6 billion of federal financial aid when 661,000 graduates across the country who were eligible for a Pell Grant did not complete the financial aid application. More than a third of graduating seniors did not complete the application in 2018, missing an average $4,000 apiece in aid.
In Nebraska last year, 38% of students did not complete the application.
The bill came out of the Education Committee on a 5-1 vote, with Chairman Mike Groene of North Platte voting against sending the bill to the floor.
Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard said school principals in his district told him parents might not be comfortable sending income tax information to the schools, which would be a public relations problem. Vargas said schools would not be required to collect that information.
Groene said he opposed the bill because the state should not mandate that parents fill out a form for a voluntary government program.
There's a lot of kids who could qualify for the money but don't want it or don't want to go to college. Immigrant parents may fear filling out government forms, he said.
"I think the schools do the right thing now," he said. "This is absolutely unnecessary. This is social engineering."
Sen. John Arch of La Vista said he was concerned about the cost, school personnel having to chase down parents to get them to opt out or fill out the form and parents having to share that financial information with schools.
The bill's fiscal note says school districts may incur some expenses implementing and maintaining the new requirement but that the fiscal impact is unknown.
Senators voted 28-9 to advance the bill to a second round of debate.
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