Gov. Pillen, state senators introduce trio of education-focused bills

Pillen said the bills would focus on funding public schools, adding more funding for special education and cutting property taxes for Nebraskans.
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 7:25 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Governor Pillen and several state senators introduced three education-focused bills in a press conference Tuesday. Pillen said the bills would focus on funding public schools, adding more funding for special education, and cutting property taxes for Nebraskans.

“All of us in Nebraska agree on two really simple things; that we never ever quit on our kids and our kids are our future. And we all agree that property taxes have gotten so out of whack in Nebraska, that you don’t even need to own property to be affected,” Gov. Pillen said.

One bill, introduced by Senator Rita Sanders, creates a “foundation aid,” which would provide $1,500 to each public school district for each student.

“Unequalized schools will be helped most by this part of the proposal, an estimated 180 districts would receive an increase in aid,” Sen. Sanders said.

There are 244 school districts in Nebraska and a majority don’t receive what’s called “state equalization funding.” State equalization funding is money coming directly from the state because the district’s property taxes weren’t enough to cover the needs of the district. As it stands, many rural schools aren’t receiving that kind of funding.

The second part of Sanders’ bill creates more funding for special education. Right now, a mix of state funding and federal funding only covers about 40-43% of the cost of special education. Sanders proposes the state infuses $157,000,000 into the school system.

“We propose a new statutory provision that 80% of special education funding be covered through a combination of federal and state funding.”

The second bill of the package, proposed by Senator Robert Clements, would create the “Education Future Fund” to pay for the foundational aid and special education money proposed in Sanders’ bill. If approved, the state would pitch in $1,000,000,000 immediately from the general fund. After that, the state would add $250,000,000 every year through 2030.

“The increased state aid to K-12 schools is designed to deliver dollar-for-dollar property tax relief,” Sen. Clements said.

Sen. Clements said the money could also be used to help with the retention of current teachers and also create one-time grants for creating additional K-12 careers.

The third bill in the trio is called the “Cap Bill” and was introduced by Senator Tom Briese.

“We can’t just simply send dollars to schools and expect that it’s going to yield property tax relief,” Briese said.

Sen. Briese said the cap bill would limit the total revenue of public school districts to a 3% annual increase, which would limit how much property taxpayers would contribute.

Sen. Briese called it a “soft cap,” meaning if a district wants to override it, it can do so for several reasons.

The Nebraska State Education Association said it is cautiously optimistic about the trio of bills.

“We always say the devils in the details, obviously. And we look forward to seeing the details of the bills and to see some of the cost modeling,” Tim Royers, a member of NSEA, said. “But as far as the underlying philosophy that we heard this morning, we’re really excited about what the governor and the state senators talked about.”