Election 2022: Nebraska gubernatorial candidates on school aid formula

Both candidates agree it needs to change, but differ greatly on how to go about doing so.
6 News asked Nebraska’s major gubernatorial candidates about how they think we should pay for our public schools.
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - 6 News asked Nebraska’s major gubernatorial candidates about how they think we should pay for our public schools.

Their views differ greatly.

“Some districts receive additional funding, while others are left to fend for themselves,” Jim Pillen, Republican candidate for governor, says in a commercial.

He has made school funding a key piece of his agenda. His idea: Scrap the current formula used to finance Nebraska’s public schools.

“We should never quit on kids, yet our funding formula, I’m taking aim at where the funding is coming from. It’s not Nebraska. It’s not fair,” he says.

Pillen says the way to make it more equitable is to spread the money evenly among Nebraska’s 244 school districts.

“Let’s just say it’s $3,200 per student. However many kids are in Gering — Gering gets $3,200 per kid. How many at Elkhorn High? That’s what they get. It’s the same everywhere,” he said.

In 1990, when the Nebraska Legislature first came up with the formula, the idea was to prop up property-poor school districts. The formula would help limit the overreliance on property tax to fund local schools and shift the burden to sales and income tax.

At the time, property tax and other local sources financed 70% of the cost to operate public schools in Nebraska. The national average was 43%.

“To divide these districts based only on student enrollment, it’s going to produce winners and losers,” said Carol Blood, Democratic candidate for governor.

Blood said her opponent’s plan is flawed and that — based on her team’s calculations — it would force school districts from Grand Island to Hastings, Chadron to Omaha Public Schools to raise their levies to make up for the lost millions of dollars in state aid.

“We know that each student has different needs. You can’t just say that 100 students over here get this amount of money, and the 100 students over here get the same amount of money because maybe the 20% of students over here have disabilities. That cost per student will be more than the student without a disability,” Blood said.

Both candidates agree the school aid formula needs to be changed, but they disagree on how to make that happen.

“We’ve tried to put band-aids on everything. We keep kicking these cans down the road and these all-or-nothing solutions just create a bigger crisis,” Blood said.

“Education is the solution out of poverty. It’s the solution for our kids,” Pillen said.

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