Unicameral Rejects Plan For New State Aid Program To Help Rural Districts Lower Property Tax

      An attempt to steer more money into Nebraska’s small, rural K-12 schools failed yesterday when supporters fell 2 votes shy of the minimum 25 needed to advance a measure. 14 senators did not take part in the 23-12 vote.

      Nebraska has 244 school districts, but only 84 of them get money from the largest state aid funding program – equalization aid – which is calculated by subtracting potential local property taxes a district’s needs.

      Most rural districts get no equalization aid because they have few students but lots of farmland that can bring in a lot of property tax revenue, even though the farmers and ranchers may not have high incomes.

      Senator Curt Friesen’s bill addressed that by creating a new state aid category for districts where property taxes account for more than 70% of their revenue. He estimated the cost at $65-million dollars the first year and he blasted the state’s largest school districts, the ones who get the equalization aid, for opposing his plan.

      Backers of the big districts argued that they have greater costs with more low-income students and ones who need more help, such as ESL students. Friesen responded that poverty is not limited to urban areas.

      Friesen said more than a third of all students in his district, primarily small towns and rural areas north of Grand Island, receive free or reduced-price school lunches because of their family income levels.  

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