The taxes and spending debate seems to always be simplified into two sides. Take, for example, the spending debate of your tax dollars on public education. Those who believe the answer is always new programs and new spending falsely label those who oppose that philosophy as anti-public education. I have a tendency to examine how we spend existing funds. Is it presently efficient and effective? Is there room to eliminate redundancy? An example of this lies in the recent debate over expanding the use of education dollars to inject mental health services and social services into our schools when those services are already offered through private business, non-profits and for the poor through Health and Human Services. I would prefer we look at incorporating our state’s existing Health and Human Services Department social workers into the school environment. Makes sense since that is where the children they serve are. I also have a hard time accepting the concept that normal childhood misbehavior and revolt against authority should be considered as mental (behavioral) health. Call it what you want, but a good dose of discipline is still the best cure for it and I will continue to pursue legislation to return control of the classroom back to teachers. The spenders are aghast at such sacrilege; how dare one doubt the education establishment’s ability to use tax dollars wisely. (By the way, it was eye-opening to actually see in a recent newspaper column by a local proponent of more spending use the religious term “sacred” when describing education programs).
As the debate goes on, here are some facts you might want to consider:
-According to the well-respected Hightower Report, U.S. Census numbers show that nationally Nebraskans pay the second highest local and state taxes as a percentage of their income. Only the citizens of the bankrupt state of Illinois pay more.
-Our State government spends 43.9% ($1.96 billion) of its budget on early childhood through college education. Another $170 million of the property tax and homestead exemption funds end up in public education coffers.
-According to State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), an organization of statewide postsecondary education representatives, of every $1,000 of a Nebraskan’s income $9.48 of it goes towards taxes for higher education (6th in the nation) and by per-capita basis they spend $474 (5th in the nation).
-Public education; at $12,989 Nebraska ranks in the top 15 nationally in per-student spending. During these last four years of budget shortfalls we still increased funding for schools. In this biennium the increase was 1.2% annually while the overall budget increased by only ½%. Taking into account the continued rapid rise in property tax support for public education due to property valuation increases, Nebraska’s taxpayers need not apologize to anyone about their support of public education.
I believe it to be part of my elected duty to ask some basic questions and expect answers from those public employees who administer the spending of our tax dollars on public education. Shouldn’t Nebraskans be able to expect excellent results in the basics of reading, writing and math with the $4.2 billion of tax money we spent this year on public education before we agree to spend more?
We do need to make changes to how we pay for education. Presently 58.1% comes from property taxes, one of the highest in the nation, 36.4% from income and sales taxes, one of the lowest in the nation, and 5.4% from federal sources.
Tomorrow, we are announcing an initiative to look at the State Aid to Education formula (TEEOSA) by a group of State Senators who have in the past shown a desire to fix it. The goal is to create a single legislative bill amongst us and to be able to unite behind it. In the past, we have all pursued our own versions of a legislative fix creating a divided effort that in the end failed to produce results. Will we succeed? I believe so, but to not try is to fail.
I will see you at the NEBRASKAland Days parade and rodeo Saturday, but sadly I have to miss a lot of the events this week due to scheduled meetings in Lincoln. Please take part in the festivities; it is the pride of Western Nebraska.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.