Nebraska Legislature Active as Rural Education Advocates Work

Last Updated: April 01, 2006

This article appeared in the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

Nebraska's unicameral (one house) legislature has proposed a flurry of bills related to school finance since the Nebraska Coalition for Educational Equity and Adequacy (NCEEA) filed a school finance adequacy case in 2004.

NCEEA is a coalition of parents, school board members, educators, and taxpayers in 48 rural K-12 school districts. The coalition charges that the state school funding act is unconstitutional because it prevents schools from providing constitutionally adequate educational opportunities.

Specifically, NCEEA makes the following claims: 

  • The funding provided by the School Finance Act has no relation to the level of funding needed to provide the programs and services necessary both to produce the free instruction required and guaranteed by Nebraska's Constitution and also to meet academic standards set forth in new laws.
  • The School Funding Act assumes school district costs decline in direct proportion to the decline in student enrollment.
  • The School Funding Act places a spending growth cap that is unrelated to the actual increases in educational costs or needs, inflation, or any other educationally relevant measure. Therefore, school districts are often prevented by these budget limits from providing needed services to all their students, and in particular those at risk of academic failure, including English Learners and low-income students.
  • The School Funding Act shifts more of the cost of funding public schools onto highly disparate local property tax bases; it also caps local property taxes, which limits the ability of school districts to raise local revenue through property tax levies. The result is that the amount and value of taxable property, rather than the cost of providing a high quality education, determines the level of funding for local schools.
  • The Nebraska Legislature manipulates the terms and definitions of the School Funding Act in order to provide a lesser amount for "state aid" than is called for by the school funding formula.
  • The School Funding Act ignores the significant number of inadequate school facilities.

In the past two years the Nebraska Legislature has considered the following bills:

  • 2005 Legislative Session:
    • LB 126 (passed), mandated that all elementary-only school districts consolidate with a K-12 school district. A ballot initiative to repeal this legislation is scheduled for the fall, but the state has appealed the initiative and no ruling has yet been made.
    • LB 129 (still pending in 2006), to reform the School Funding Act in order to base school funding on historic expenditures; this would prevent efforts to determine the costs of providing specific educational programs and services and then basing funding on those costs.
    • LB 378 (killed), to establish a legislative commission to conduct a school finance adequacy study based on one of four nationally-recognized methodologies.
    • LB 577 (passed), includes funding for early childhood education for at-risk four-year-olds in the School Funding Act.
    • LB 628 (killed), places a tax on snack foods and earmarks the revenue for school facilities.
    • The state budget for 2005-06 provides full funding of state aid, $700 million, as prescribed by the School Funding Act.
  • 2006 Legislative Session
    • LB 129 (to base school funding on historic expenditures) is in committee. 
    • LB 1028 to establish a new allowance for distance education and telecommunications in the School Funding Act. This was advanced for second round debate.
    • LB 1138 (killed), to provide basic funding of at least $2,000/student to K-12 school districts with fewer than 250 students and less than $750,000 property value/student.

In 2005-07 biennium budget, the Nebraska Legislature originally appropriated $735 million in school funding for fiscal year 2006-07. However, in March 2006, the Appropriations Committee revised the budget downward by $16 million and will recommend $719 million for fiscal year 2006-07. The legislature made this cut because local property valuations are expected to rise by a similar amount; the expected outcome, however, for many districts is a reduction in overall funding.

NCEEA is organizing parents, school board members, taxpayers, students, and educators statewide to effect changes in the School Funding Act. NCEEA holds community workshops to increase awareness of the School Funding Act and its deficiencies for rural schools. It sponsors town hall meetings with legislative representatives and circulates informational fliers explaining school funding issues and solutions at athletic and community events. 

Many NCEEA members believe that the wave of legislative proposals in 2005 and 2006 are a direct response to the lawsuit and grassroots organizing and communications efforts by NCEEA to bring attention to rural education finance issues.

Read more from the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

Related Categories: Rural Policy Matters, State/Region

Related Tags: School Finance/Funding