Historic education funding bill nears passage in Nebraska Legislature

'I see it as a win-win-win,' Sen. Danielle Conrad says

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – On Tuesday, senators advanced a bill that would direct more state funds to K-12 public schools in Nebraska.

Introduced by Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue at the governor’s request, LB 583 is part of a larger package of bills that includes tax cuts, property tax relief and a cap on school revenue growth.

Sanders said the bill would be the largest increase in state aid to public schools in Nebraska history, at about $300 million per year.

If the bill is passed, the state would pay school districts $1,500 per student in foundation aid, starting next school year.

It would also increase state aid for special education expenses.

Currently, the state reimburses special education programs and services for less than 50% of their expenses. This bill would increase that to 80%.

Sen Danielle Conrod of Lincoln said it’s important to put more funding into Nebraska’s schools, whether they are in rural or urban areas.

“I think this is a very smart proposal because it brings together senators from greater Nebraska and urban Nebraska to find some common ground on keeping our great public schools great and keeping an eye towards reduction in property taxes.”

One amendment to the bill would allow it to get part of its funding from the new Education Future Fund.

That fund is part of a separate bill and is like a rainy-day fund that will have money added to it every year.

Conrad said while there hasn’t been strong opposition to the bill, there are some differing opinions on where the money should be allocated and where it should come from.

She said the important thing is that Nebraska continues to find common ground across the state’s districts on keeping schools funded.

“Really, I see it as a win-win-win,” Conrad said. “More money for schools, more money for students with special needs, and a way to address the increase in pressure on property taxes at the local level.”

Rebecca Firestone, executive director of the OpenSky Policy Institute, said the bill is an important investment into schools.

But she worries that the bill doesn’t specify how the money will benefit students.

“It’s new money that’s going into schools,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for schools to become less reliant on local property taxes, but what we’re not seeing in this debate is, ‘What is the funding designed to deliver for students in terms of their outcomes?'”

She’s also concerned about a separate bill, LB 243, which would create a cap on how much local school districts can receive in property tax revenue.

The institute believes that bill will undo the effects of LB 583, leaving districts with the same amount of money, just from a different source.

Senators approved the bill on a voice vote. It will now go to its final reading.

SEE ALSO: Nebraska senators advance $200 million property tax relief proposal

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