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Thursday and Friday of last week the Education and Revenue Committees met in an executive session on the subject of funding sources for K-12 public education. In 1990, the Legislature created the present Tax Equity and Educational Opportunity Support Act (TEEOSA) in reaction to pressure from overburdened property taxpayers. Twenty-five years later, and after many legislative changes to the TEEOSA formula, we are back to the same problem. But this time, the inequity is concentrated on rural school districts. Citizens in the Wallace and Hershey School districts receive no equalized state aid for their school children. North Platte receives $2,611 per student while the eleven school districts in the Omaha area Learning Community receive $3,806; Lincoln Public Schools receive $3,205, and Grand Island Public Schools receive $5,129. Last year 159 school districts out of 245, including Wallace and Hershey, received no equalized state aid.
This inequity in state funding for education is a major reason why property taxes are high in rural Nebraska.
There are options to correct the inequity in funding. Our state constitution declares that, “The Legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools of this state…” and also says, “The state shall be prohibited from levying a property tax for state purposes”. Presently, 56,835 Nebraska children living in un-equalized school districts do not receive full support from the state to provide them free instruction. Rather, their education opportunity is paid for mostly by local property taxpayers. Creating a guarantee of foundation aid to each student would help fix the inequity and also enable rural school boards to lower the property tax bill to citizens. Secondly, removing the mandate that school boards must maintain a minimum tax rate to receive the full amount of state equalized aid or averaging adjustment aid, would allow local school boards to respond to taxpayers’ demands to lower the property tax burden. Finally, lowering the maximum tax levy 10 cents (i.e. to 95 cents) would give everyone property tax relief: homeowners, businesses, and agriculture. These changes would shift more of the cost to state government, where it belongs, and remove it from the backs of the property taxpayers. But any effort will be for naught, if first we do not slow down the growth of public education spending.
Locally, the school district’s valuation increased by $117 million (5.9%); county wide the increase was $488 million (12.4%). Do not believe the scare tactics used by apologists for increased government spending. Local elected officials are quite capable of lowering your tax burden without hurting your child’s education or harming the public good.
The death penalty petition process has been successful, the citizens have spoken. With over 166,000 signatures gathered and only 114,000 actually needed, the voters will now be able to decide if the death penalty will remain an option for hideous crimes in our civilized society. After taking calls to my office by citizens trying to find where they could sign the petition, I decided to pick up a clipboard and join a contingent of local volunteers. We aided citizens’ access to a petition, thus allowing them to take part in their government. In Lincoln County, over 4201 citizens signed the petition, which was 1877 more than the necessary 10% needed. Other area counties where we presented the petition successfully were Chase, Deuel, Hayes, Thomas, Hooker, Hitchcock, Logan, and Custer. The debate will now begin and will end in the voting booths of the November 2016 election.
If you have any comments or issues that you wish to discuss, please contact our office at 402-471-2729.