LINCOLN — A compromise on changes to the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties headed to the full Legislature Thursday.
The amended version of Legislative Bill 585 would reduce the Learning Community's taxing authority by one-third and trim transportation for students using open enrollment.
The Education Committee advanced the compromise only after being assured that State Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, the bill's introducer, would fight attempts to hijack the bill.
“Anything that would be a significant departure from this carefully crafted amendment would be a deal-breaker,” said Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln.
The committee chairwoman, Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, said she had a letter from Smith promising to kill his own bill if lawmakers attach any amendments without approval from all sides, or fail to adopt the compromise.
Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha called that assurance critical because Learning Community officials opposed Smith's original version of LB 585.
Smith also had signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill to abolish the Learning Community. The Education Committee killed that bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, earlier this week.
But Smith worked with Kolowski, a former chairman of the Learning Community Council, to hammer out the compromise.
Ted Stilwill, CEO for the Learning Community, said the council will review the details of the bill over the next several days.
However, he said the proposed funding changes could benefit students with the greatest needs.
“This compromise has the potential to allow the Learning Community to place an even greater focus on children in poverty,” he said.
The 11 school districts within the Learning Community have a common property tax levy. Funds from state school aid and the common levy are redistributed among the districts with the goal of sharing resources equitably across the Omaha area. The goal is to close achievement gaps for disadvantaged students.
As introduced, LB 585 would have cut the entity's governing council to six members, all appointed by school boards. The council now has 18 members, of whom 12 are elected directly.
Under the compromise, no changes will be made in governance.
The original bill would have eliminated the 1-cent tax levy allowed for elementary learning centers, extended learning, family support and other programs aimed at helping students and families.
Under the compromise, that levy would be bumped up to 1½ cents, with the extra half cent going to expand early childhood education programs.
The original bill would have funded early childhood programs by redirecting the 2-cent capital project levy.
Under the compromise, the capital project levy would be cut to a half cent.
Both versions would eliminate free transportation for students using open enrollment to attend a different school within their home district, or to go to a district that does not share a boundary with their home district.
Only three of the 11 Learning Community districts do not share a boundary with Omaha Public Schools: Douglas County West, Gretna and South Sarpy.
Legislative fiscal staff could not estimate how much the transportation change might save Omaha-area school districts.
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