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Earlier this Session, I received some comments from education officials in Legislative District 24 about some bills they believe will negatively impact public school districts in the area. Legislative Bills 958, 959, and 1066 are three of those bills. Thank you to the officials who brought these bills to my attention. With this article I hope to answer the questions and address the concerns I received from school officials and provide the general public with information on public school financing legislation.
Senator Gloor introduced LB958 at the request of the Governor to limit the amount political subdivisions statewide may increase agricultural and horticultural land valuations to three percent per year. While the bill touches on public school district funding, there is a limited effect in that regard. The only change to public school districts made by LB958 is that they will receive more property tax credit funding. Because additional tax credit funding tends to change the amount of State aid to public school districts, I should clarify that the funding implicated by LB958 is not an accountable receipt in the State aid formula. Therefore, LB958 will not adversely affect public school districts. School districts should actually see a benefit from the bill, especially those non-equalized school districts because those districts will see even higher credits. An amended version of LB958, as of March 24, is pending in the Revenue Committee.
LB959 was also introduced at the request of the Governor, but was introduced by Senator Sullivan and referred to the Education Committee. The bill has two major components: 1) it amends the public school levying formula; and 2) it restructures the permissible projects for which capital improvement levies may be utilized. There are pros and cons to both components.
With regard to the levying formula, one of the prospective benefits of LB959 is that each school district under the new formula is allowed the maximum level of State aid, regardless of its individual levy. The current formula influences school district levies because, if they levy below a certain limit, they lose State aid. This leads to the practice where school district boards decide to “levy up” in order to obtain their maximum available State aid. Under LB959, school districts would not be influenced in this way.
Prospective disadvantagesto the levying formula under LB959 are the costs associated with making this change as well as the decrease in Nebraska Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) funding. With an estimated fiscal note of $3.5 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year and the drop in TEEOSA funding, we must carefully weigh the pros and cons to ensure that school districts are not unnecessarily burdened.
The second component of LB959 restricts the list of capital improvement projects for which school districts may levy funds. While this allows for transparency for the costs associated with improving old school buildings and/or building new ones, it reduces the flexibility of school districts to improve their facilities. Again, we must be careful in determining the costs and benefits for our public schools. LB959 is currently on General File.
Finally, LB1066, another Education Committee bill introduced by Senator Sullivan, would, among other things, change the laws related to option special education costs. In essence, LB1066 would allow “option school districts” to implement educational programming for an “option student” and bill the “resident school district” for the costs. Current law allows special education students to opt into a school district other than his or her resident district, but the resident district determines the programming and support for those special needs students. I have received comments from local educators that LB1066 takes away resident school districts’ ability to properly provide for their special needs students while still being accountable to their taxpayers. While it stands to reason that option districts should be allowed to provide input regarding the needs of their option students, I understand the concerns of my constituent schools. Notably, LB1066 passed from General File to Select File on March 24 – as my staff and I were finalizing the final draft of this article – with an amendment that struck the provision I explained above.
Primarily, I am glad the constituents of District 24 continue to contact me with their comments and concerns about the bills that affect them most. When considering legislation, it can be very difficult to fully understand the pros and cons, especially because of the large number of bills we consider. With information from my constituents who know the issues best, I am better prepared to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of legislation. I hope that by carefully considering the information at my disposal I can help enact legislation that benefits District 24 and the entire State of Nebraska. I am not fully supportive of any of the previously mentioned bills, but I look forward to working on all the underlying issues with my colleagues. I expect to see a thorough comments from the District.
As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. Joe and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address your concerns, thoughts, and needs. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman for Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.