Finding Compromise on School Funding


Finding Compromise on School Funding


The Legislature undertook a complicated and important debate last week to revise our state aid to PK-12 education funding formula.

The state of Nebraska provides more than one-third of the total dollars that go into PK-12 public education.

When all state funding sources are considered together, well over $1 billion is dedicated to the education of 290,000 students.

This is a remarkable figure and proof that Nebraska values education and supports our next generation of citizens. Aid to public education is by far the largest portion of our state budget.

So when we negotiate the elements that make up our aid to education formula, we must consider all the ramifications as they impact our 249 school districts. Communities across our state have a wide range of economic strengths, populations and demographic characteristics.

Dodge County is a good microcosm of these different elements. Fremont, Nebraska's sixth-largest city with 26,500 residents, has a diverse economy with strengths in manufacturing, education, health care, finance, logistics and entertainment. There are many young residents and family incomes vary more than in some other parts of our state. The Fremont Public Schools system has 4,334 students. The property valuation per student is low relative to other school districts in the state.

Other parts of Dodge County have economies dominated by crop production, animal agriculture and heavy equipment manufacturing. North Bend Central Public Schools has 563 students, Logan View Public Schools has 496 students, Scribner-Snyder Public Schools has 227 students and Howells-Dodge has 218 students. These districts encompass a great deal of agricultural land.

With the large increase in agricultural land valuation recently, the school aid formula -- “needs” minus “resources” equals “aid” -- impacts Fremont Public Schools differently than other districts. Residential and commercial property valuation has been flat over the past few years. This means that the formula recognizes a smaller increase in “resources” per student for Fremont relative to everyone else.

Several senators introduced proposals at the beginning of January to adjust certain elements of the school aid formula. Rural senators and urban senators offered bills that understandably impacted the distribution of aid differently depending on the characteristics of their districts. We as a 49-member Legislature had to debate a funding formula that was good policy for our state as a whole.

After an intense first day of debate on General File (first of three rounds of debate), the Speaker of the Legislature temporarily passed over the bill so that senators with pending amendments could negotiate a compromise before resuming debate. The parties involved were able to reach a consensus two days later and we debated and advanced the compromise on the last legislative day of last week.

The compromise appropriately recognizes the needs of both urban and rural districts while keeping some of the allowances and adjustments in the formula that originally were proposed to be repealed. Instructional time and teacher education credentials will continue to be recognized as a factor in funding distribution.