Mixed feelings ahead of new school year and new funding

Governor Pillen speaks on the newly passed Education legislation at a Wednesday Press Conference.
Published: Jul. 26, 2023 at 9:56 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2023 at 10:05 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Three school funding bills passed in the Nebraska State Legislature in May. They include a handful of efforts and regulations, including allocating $1,500 per student to school districts, creating a long-term education future fund, increasing aid for special education and capping the amount of tax dollars schools can ask for.

Governor Jim Pillen signed a large, $1 billion prop check at a Wednesday press conference that said it’s going to Nebraska’s kids.

“Here in Nebraska the one thing we all agree on is kids are future and we’re never ever going to give up on kids,” Pillen said, discussing the Education Future Fund. “It’s here for the long haul and we’ve worked very hard to have a budget, a fiscally conservative budget for the state with the highest focus on education, so this budget, this billion dollars and 250 million here after will withstand the test of time.”

Pillen said the fund is not just helping schools. The new state aid is meant to take the pressure off property taxpayers who have been footing the bill for mostly rural districts for decades.

“This investment helps us reduce the tax burden fought by our citizens and it’s an effort that makes Nebraska competitive and attracts families here,” Pillen said.

The Nebraska State Education Association says they’re worried taxpayers are the real focus of the bill—not students. The group said its concerned that the state will not have enough revenue to support the changes in the long run.

“If we are putting lids on spending and really not increasing the revenue and just shifting it, we need to be honest about that,” Jenni Benson, president of the NSEA, said.

Not all districts are worried though. Lincoln Public Schools said it would be able to cut its property tax levy by 13 cents.

“The increased investments not only provided for those students, but it also assisted our property taxpayers,” LPS Superintendent Paul Gausman said.

While the school districts at the press conference had only good things to say about the changes, the NSEA said some are struggling. The NSEA said some are getting less money or already having to hold elections to override the revenue caps now in place.