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Education Advocates: NE Children More than Dollars and Cents

Will Nebraska school children pay the price in the state's budget negotiations? (kakisky/Morguefile)
Will Nebraska school children pay the price in the state's budget negotiations? (kakisky/Morguefile)
April 17, 2017

This is the fifth in a series of reports that examines Nebraska’s budget priorities: who stands to benefit and who could lose out?

LINCOLN, Neb. – Schools and educators in Nebraska are troubled by tax cut talk as budget negotiations continue at the state house.

Over the past several years, state funding for K-through-12 education has dropped dramatically, with more rural districts that receive less equalization aid especially feeling the squeeze.

In the Chadron Public School District, Superintendent Caroline Winchester says after years of cuts, says her district is running out of options.

"Some teachers have retired and we're not going to be filling some of those positions,” she explains. “Class sizes are going to increase, because we are concerned about the potential funding for public education down the road."

Ann Hunter-Pirtle, director of the education advocacy group Stand for Schools, says districts want to be part of the budget solution.

But with an estimated $900 million budget shortfall over the next two years, she maintains proposals to slash state income taxes are misguided.

"It's important for policymakers to see children as more than dollars and cents, and really think about not just balancing the budget – which is, of course, important – but what that means in real life," she stresses.

Nebraska ranks 49th in the country in terms of state dollars allocated for public education, with districts relying heavily on funding from property taxes.

School aid would increase by $21 million next year to about $1 billion, under an Education Committee proposal. But that's $46 million below the suggested school aid formula.

Winchester contends leaders should understand that investments in education extend beyond the classroom.

"Obviously, graduates earn more money,” she points out. “The community has lower crime rates, they generally have higher property valuations. So, there's a number of investments when we invest in public schools.”

Legislation is also pending (LB 484) to create a commission to research school finance in Nebraska, with a specific focus on the over reliance on property taxes to fund K-12 education.

Join us next week as we continue our budget series with a look at cuts that could impact older Nebraskans.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE