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Submitted by Scott Gregory
As I type this, we are only three weeks away from Christmas break and the new year. With the New Year, we will have a new president and a new state legislative session. President Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos as his secretary of education. Mrs. Devos is known for her advocacy for charter schools. While this has caused some consternation among leaders I know, I am confident that Nebraska’s No. 1 in the nation ACT scores and “closing the gap” progress will catch the secretary’s eye and that the new administration will be pragmatic in evaluating good state systems of education.
With a new legislative session, we face great uncertainty. The state is looking at a looming budget shortfall. The only certainty that is known, is that a wide range of options will be on the table. I’ve heard discussions of “sin taxes” as well as a thorough look at the school aid funding formula, as well as sales taxes.
During the 2010-11 school year, Neligh-Oakdale received roughly $1 million in state aid. This year, we will receive $111. It is clear that the school funding formula is broken. Along with this, the local property tax burden is too high and while the state has shirked its responsibility, local taxpayers have taken over the burden.
Certain elected officials don’t acknowledge this because it helps them point out that they reduced state spending. Those same officials will blame school spending and call for more action from local school districts.
However, that is a red herring. According to the Open Sky Institute, from FY 1995-2015, the rate of state budget growth was 4.5 percent. For K-12 public schools during the same period, it was 4.17 percent. Yes, you read that right. K-12 public education spending growth was lower than state growth.
Locally, Neligh-Oakdale is currently operating with $460,080 less in tax asking than it did in 2015-2016. Our trajectory with the levy is downward. In 2011-12, the levy was $1.04. For this school year, it is .86. Claims to cut spending ignore trends and don’t acknowledge that this will continue due to the diligence of school boards.
It is in the public interest that we have well run school systems and that school funding be fair and equitable to all taxpayers. It is my hope that our resolution will be to work toward making both of those goals a reality.