September 18, 2014

Hours of debate on school aid formula go nowhere, suspended (AUDIO)

Sen. Kate Sullivan/Unicameral Information Office photo

Sen. Kate Sullivan/Unicameral Information Office photo

Debate on state funding for public schools has been suspended after hours of futile effort in the legislature.

State lawmakers began debate on LB 407 at the beginning of the legislative day. The bill would spare the state budget by increasing state aid to public schools by 6.3% next year, rather than 10.4% if not adjusted. It would provide an average 5.5% increase in state education funding the next two years, increasing state education funding to $923 million.

Education Committee Chairwoman, Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, foreshadowed the difficult debate to come in her opening statement.

“And so we begin or perhaps it already has. Have you made up your minds, drawn the line in the sand, manned your battle stations?” Sullivan asked. “Well, I guess we’re going to find out.”

Sullivan noted that LB 407 split the Education Committee. She stated that the legislature had been put on notice that approving a new funding formula would not be an easy task.

Though Sullivan pleaded for lawmakers not to make the debate an urban-rural split, the lines were quickly drawn during debate as urban lawmakers called for changes that would shift more money to their districts and rural lawmakers pointed out the difficulties of funding schools in sparsely populated portions of the state.

Speaker Greg Adams of York urged lawmakers to listen, not just to fellow senators, but to school superintendents in their districts.

Adams noted that the issue has been complicated by property values. He noted that residential property values have stagnated, hurting school districts in the more populated portions of the state while agricultural property values in rural Nebraska have grown by double-digits.

“And the formula finds it difficult to respond to those kind of imbalances. A year or two, yes; going on five, that’s troublesome,” Adams told lawmakers.

Property taxes play a large role in determining how much state aid Nebraska’s 249 school districts receive.

Adams suspended debate on LB 407, stating that negotiations would begin to try to resolve differences before the legislature returned to the measure.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]

AUDIO: Education Committee chairwoman, Sen. Kate Sullivan, opens on LB 407. [26:35]

AUDIO: Speaker Greg Adams discusses LB 407 during legislative debate. [4:38]