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Opinion - Opinion
At the Legislature: Unfair aid to educationTell North Platte what you think

The Education Committee has had several meetings since the session ended in June. If you followed the debate over how to fund education in Nebraska last session, you are aware that there was a lot of blood spilled on the floor of the legislature over how to divey up over $900 million among Nebraska 249 school districts.

Legislative District 43 contains 16 of those districts, and each has its own particular problems and needs.

Taken in its entirety, the state-aid-to-schools formula is extremely complex with several allowances and adjustments for specific goals.

The basic formula is very simple -- Needs minus Resources should equal State Aid, but the devil is, of course, in the details.

A districtís needs are increased when it has more students in poverty, more students who are not English speakers by birth, and more special education students. Resources are the funds available by levying at a minimum effort level, which has been at 95 cents for some time.

Several other adjustments are included in the formula, and three of them were particularly contentious last year.

The instructional time allowance kicks up state aid for schools that offer more in-school time. Some districts added days to their school year while others added a few minutes to a day to gain this allowance.

The averaging adjustment increased aid for Nebraskaís largest districts by averaging the costs of all districts together and dividing by 249.

The education allowance added additional revenue to districts which had hired teachers with advanced degrees.

Each of these three adjustments came under review in summer 2012 when the Education Committee traveled Nebraska and took testimony at public hearings.

Many educators felt that instructional time was too hard to pin down and that adding a few minutes to the day was not really benefiting students.

The education allowance rewards districts when a certain percentage of the staff has advanced degrees, but districts didnít know if they met the criteria until they had already hired staff.

The averaging adjustment benefited large districts by the method in which the average was calculated.

Hyannis and Omaha would be given the same weight despite the enormous differences in student numbers and costs. Each adjustment to the formula affects other districts since it means there is less revenue available for them

The Education Committee eliminated these three allowances, but they were reinstated when the bill to revise the state aid formula reached the floor for debate by the full legislature.

Special interests won out over good policy.

I make these points because the Education Committee is again engaged in trying to develop a better formula. In meetings with several superintendents this week, we again heard that these three allowances should be removed from the formula.

We also heard from two policy entities which argue that Nebraska must develop a stronger early-childhood program, that the state must provide local districts more support and that the adjustments in question should be eliminated.

With 114 districts receiving no state aid, it is obvious that the formula needs to be restructured. Land prices have risen dramatically which has tilted state aid away from rural Nebraska, but many of our rural districts have significant needs which are now unmet due to budget constraints.

I welcome any ideas you might have to build a better formula which is fair to all Nebraskans.

As always, I value your input, and welcome phone calls, emails and personal visits from you.

Sen. Al Davis, State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509. (402) 471-2628, or email adavis@leg.ne.gov

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 8/16/2013
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