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From the very start of my campaign to where we are today the biggest issue I heard from you, the constituent, was that property taxes were too high and we needed to find a way to lower them. It is still my goal to find a way to do just that. In order to do that we need to look at a different method of funding K-12 education – because the current method of distributing state aid to schools is not working as well as it was intended back in 1990 when it originated.
LB 323 is a bill that may find a new method by creating the School Financing Review Commission. The Commission will be tasked with conducting an in-depth review of the financing of public elementary and secondary schools in Nebraska. The School Financing Review Commission will consist of 19 members representing the three branches of government, as well as rural and urban public school districts, post-secondary education, educational services units, and two at-large members. The Commission will examine the current school funding system, how current state aid is distributed (TEEOSA), and its reliance on different tax sources, and will make recommendations to the Legislature aimed at ensuring that school funding is balanced in its funding sources, and fairly distributed to all schools, while maintaining a high standard of education for all students.
In 1988, Governor Kay Orr was required under LB 940 to appoint the 16 members to the original Nebraska School Financing Review Commission. That Commission was created to perform an in-depth and objective review of the funding of Nebraska’s public school system. The Commission was specifically charged with the duty to examine whether or not income as a revenue source and indicator of wealth should play a larger role in school finance. It also was to look at methods to reduce the burden on the property tax for support of schools and consider other state aid distribution formulas that provide greater equity for students and taxpayers.
Sound familiar? Achieving a more balanced way to fund education and also finding a way to lower property taxes are not new issues. It is difficult to find solutions especially in a state that is split rural and urban. Early in the session it seemed as though there would be numerous bills that would deal with this issue, but as time has ensued, I have not seen any proposals advance out of the Education Committee. I’m starting to feel that we will accomplish very little in regard to long term property tax relief.
The 1988 Commission, over an 18-month period, held 21 meetings, five public hearings and listened to dozens of presentations by staff and outside experts in order to arrive at its conclusions. What the commission heard time and time again at these hearings was a resounding support for the concept of a tax shift away from the property tax for support of public schools.
LB 1059 (1990) was the embodiment of the final report from the School Financing Review Commission. It was meant to produce a greater equity of educational opportunity for each Nebraska student enrolled in public schools regardless of the student’s geographic residence. Finally, the bill would address the on-going issue of over-reliance upon property taxes to fund public education and the need to provide tax relief to property owners.
But times have changed. With the increase in agricultural land values reaching 30-40% a year we now have property taxes reaching $90+ per acre in some school districts. This brings property tax into the top five highest items in the cost of raising a crop. This is not sustainable in the short or long term success of agriculture in Nebraska.
LB 323 is structured to mimic the original 1988 School Financing Review Commission. And there is hope that we can have a successful outcome in providing property tax relief by once again restructuring the way we fund education. The bill is still under consideration by the Education Committee at this time. Senator Al Davis, the introducer is hopeful the committee will soon meet to advance it to the floor so the entire legislative body can discuss whether or not this Commission can be created to move forward in finding a new educational funding mechanism for our state.