Friday, January 09, 2015

Battle brewing among Nebraska's rural and urban schools about where state aid will go

Rural and urban schools in Nebraska are battling for state aid in a fight that is pitting state lawmakers against one another and could have drastic effects on rural towns hurt by a downturn in grain crops, Joe Dejka reports for the Omaha World-Herald. Last year 124 districts—nearly half of the state’s 249 total and more than double the number five years ago—did not get aid.

But officials from rural and urban districts are pushing hard for aid this year, Dejka writes. "Metro Omaha school districts want lawmakers to boost aid under a plan that would end the common property tax levy in the two-county Learning Community. Rural lawmakers, meanwhile, are eyeing state aid as a way to relieve the property tax burden in communities hit hard by rising agricultural land values."

"Rural lawmakers have their eye on state aid, too, as a means to ease rising property tax bills. Ag land valuations increased 29 percent from 2013 to 2014, following nearly 23 percent growth in the previous year," Dejka writes. "Many rural school districts no longer qualify for state equalization aid because their property valuations are so high. The state aid formula gives more money to districts that can’t raise as much money locally through property taxes—and less state money to districts that can."

"Rural lawmakers haven’t introduced any specific proposals for lowering property taxes, but those districts want 'some of the pie,' Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk said," Dejka writes. Scheer told him that a compromise must be reached because rural people can't be expected to keep writing larger and larger property tax checks, and that "by doing that they’re freeing more and more money up for the larger districts.”

The final decision could come down to newly-elected Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who "has said he would like to end the Learning Community and move in a different direction, though he has not proposed specific legislation," Dejka writes. "Ricketts’ support of charter schools and vouchers, both of which often aim to help low-income kids, has people wondering if those ideas will enter the debate." (Read more)

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