LINCOLN — What a difference a few days makes.
A legislative lovefest on Thursday morning replaced Monday's rancorous debate about divvying up state aid to K-12 schools.
Instead of waging pitched battles, senators joined together to give 42-0 first-round approval to a compromise version of Legislative Bill 407.
State Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, the Education Committee chairwoman, said the compromise was reached through a difficult series of meetings over the past few days.
“It's been a series of highs and lows,” she said. “Who's won in this process? I sincerely hope our kids have won.”
The compromise drew praise from both urban and rural senators, who had taken opposing views on the version of the bill that had emerged from the committee.
“About the time it looked like nothing would be done, something comes out,” said Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber.
John Lindsay, a lobbyist for the Omaha Public Schools, called the agreement a “solution that is fair to as many districts as possible.”
He said it still needs some minor tweaks but those can get done before the bill returns for second-round debate. He also noted that districts will be looking closely at calculations of how the compromise would play out district-by-district. State education officials will be running those model calculations during the coming week.
Walt Radcliffe, a lobbyist for the Lincoln Public Schools, said the compromise is as good as schools were going to get under any circumstances.
“Nobody is totally happy but everybody is accepting,” he said.
Nebraska's largest schools led the opposition to the earlier version of LB 407, arguing that it would not do enough to help districts with high property tax levies, high student needs and comparatively low per-student spending.
The compromise retains the averaging adjustment, a factor that steers additional aid to large districts with below-average spending.
The bill also retains factors that direct aid to districts that employ better educated teachers and offer more school days.
Under the compromise, all schools could get state dollars to help with the teacher education and instructional time costs, even if they do not qualify for school aid otherwise.
The original version of LB 407 would have eliminated all three factors.
School aid is supposed to fill the gap between what schools need to educate children and what they can get through property taxes and other sources.
The aid formula was intended to equalize resources available to educate students and to relieve property taxes.
Rising property tax valuations and shrinking enrollments have led to fewer districts qualifying for state aid over time.
An estimated 114 of the state's 249 districts will not receive state aid next year.
LB 407 alters the formula used to divide up aid among the 249 public school districts.
It also reins in the growth of school aid to help lawmakers balance the state budget. At nearly $1 billion annually, school aid is the largest single item in the budget.
Current law would require an average 7 percent increase in school aid over the two fiscal years staring July 1. The compromise version of LB 407 would hold the increase to about 5 percent over the two years.
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