LINCOLN — Most of the state's largest school districts joined together Monday to protest projections that they'll receive $28 million less than estimated in state aid for the 2012-13 school year.
Officials with the Omaha, Lincoln, Millard, Hastings, Kearney and Bellevue districts, among others, said they hoped to recoup some of the K-12 state aid that the Legislature trimmed over the past two years because of budget constraints.
But the state now expects to spend $852 million on education — $28 million, or 3 percent, less than originally estimated.
A Millard Public Schools official said the district had to eliminate three administrative and 19 teaching positions and increase classroom sizes last year. The district will trim one more administrative position and 15 teaching slots if it gets less money next year, said Angelo Passarelli.
"It's been rough for schools," said Liz Standish of the Omaha Public Schools. "We felt that if we made it through last year we'd be able to sustain where we were at. Now we're looking at another round of cuts."
The complicated formula that governs state aid to schools — the single-largest expenditure by state government — has undergone a series of tweaks over the past six years because of budget problems and the need to incorporate federal stimulus funds and deal with a wide range of concerns raised by the state's 249 school districts.
The 2012-13 school year will be the first year in four years that state aid will not be supplemented by federal funds. The state received $63 million in federal funds during the current school year, which coupled with $822 million in state funding produced $885 million for schools during 2011-12. That was about $60 million less than in 2010-11.
Gov. Dave Heineman and others cautioned school officials to save their federal stimulus funds to prepare for the drop-off in state aid. But on Monday, members of the Education Committee were presented two options to soften the blow.
State Sen. Galen Hadley offered Legislative Bill 947, which would assure that school districts get $880 million. Eighteen co-sponsors have signed on to LB 947, which drew a parade of support from school districts and no opposition testimony.
Supporters said recent state tax receipts indicated there will be more money available, and education ought to be the state's highest priority.
"I don't think there's anyone who wants to shortchange K-12 education," Hadley said.
But York Sen. Greg Adams, Education Committee chairman, sounded a note of caution about the state's ability to sustain projected increases in aid to schools. Changes to the state aid formula will result in double-digit increases in aid beginning in two years if something isn't done, he said.
His proposal, LB 913, would adjust the state aid formula so that it would rise slightly next year and then fall. A fiscal note for the bill indicated that state aid would rise by $18 million next year and then drop by $30 million in 2013-14. Adams said those numbers are subject to change because of a new projection of state aid generated last week.
Adams' bill was opposed by school district officials, who said less state aid was unacceptable.
He said he plans to postpone discussion until a new economic forecast is issued on Feb. 24, and after he gets updated figures on the fiscal impact of his bill.
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