LINCOLN, NEB. – The Nebraska Agriculture Leaders Working Group has announced its support for a bill introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen to fix major inequities in how Nebraska funds K-12 schools, while lowering property taxes for all Nebraskans. With numerous legislative proposals dealing with school funding and tax relief having been introduced, the agriculture leaders believe LB 497 is the best bill from which to start.
“We appreciate all of the different ideas that have been brought to the table. We understand that no bill dealing with these critical issues will look the same at the end of the session as it does at the start, but we think this bill is the most comprehensive in addressing the issues. I’m sure there will be things we will find to make it even better,” said Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau president.
The bill’s guarantee that all Nebraska students receive at least 50 percent of their basic education funding from the state is key to the group’s support.
“Education is important for all of us in Nebraska. It’s important to our families, our businesses, and the overall well-being of our state. That’s why the state has a responsibility to help fund the basic education needs of our children, yet it’s failing to meet that obligation for all of Nebraska’s K-12 students,” said Darin Uhlir, Nebraska Pork Producers Association president.
Today, 150 of Nebraska’s 244 school districts receive less than 10 percent of basic education funding from the state. Fifty-five of those districts receive less than one percent.
“When it comes to providing basic education funding, the state shouldn’t look at a student in one school district and say, ‘I’ll cover 100 percent of the costs of your basic education’ and then look at a student in a different district and tell them ‘You’re on your own’. They’re both Nebraska kids. That’s not how our state should treat them, but that’s exactly what’s happening,” said Mike Drinnin, Nebraska Cattlemen president.
In addition to the minimum aid guarantee, the bill also adjusts the local resources component of the state aid formula ensuring all school districts would receive additional state dollars to help replace local property taxes.
“It’s no secret we rely far too heavily on property taxes to fund education. Nebraskans now pay the seventh highest property taxes in the nation. This bill would help fix that,” said Mark Spurgin Nebraska Wheat Growers Association president.
Roughly 60 percent of all property taxes collected in the state are used to fund schools. The bill would help lower property taxes by broadening the sources used to fund K-12 schools and replace property taxes with the new revenues.
“Broadening the sources of revenue used to fund schools so we can replace property taxes as a funding source is key to lowering property taxes for Nebraskans. It must be a part of the discussion. LB 497 reflects a thoughtful way to do that, while making sure that our state’s tax structure remains competitive with those of neighboring states,” said Robert Johnston, Nebraska Soybean Association president.
The bill also contains provisions that adjust the state aid to school formula so school districts that are largely agricultural land based would have a better chance to receive state equalization aid, as the vast majority of these districts receive little or no equalization aid to cover education costs. Today only 69 of the 244 Nebraska school districts receive state equalization aid. This bill would help boost the number of schools that receive assistance.
“LB 497 provides a great framework to begin fixing the inequity in how we fund schools and providing the meaningful and substantive property tax relief Nebraskans want. Our group looks forward to helping Sen. Friesen and others find a path forward to tackling these tough, but critical issues,” said Dan Nerud, Nebraska Corn Growers Association president.
The Agriculture Leaders Working Group includes member-elected leaders from the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Pork Producers Association, Nebraska Soybean Association, Nebraska State Dairy Association, and Nebraska Wheat Growers.