LINCOLN — A bill changing the state school aid formula to save $150 million over two years could face a tougher fight during the next round of debate.
Legislative Bill 409 breezed through first-round consideration Wednesday, advancing after less than 20 minutes of debate.
But State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, the Education Committee chairman, said an amendment expected during second-round debate could create turbulence.
The amendment would allow school districts to exceed the state’s property tax levy lid to make up for the temporary reduction in state aid under LB 409.
Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha said he plans to bring the amendment to help districts that already are at the levy lid.
Those districts would not be able to turn to property tax payers to help them cope with the state aid changes, unlike many other Nebraska districts.
Groene said he opposes the amendment and does not believe there are 25 senators who would support it.
John Lindsay, a lobbyist for the Omaha Public Schools, said OPS would not use the additional levy authority, even if passed by the Legislature, and plans to adjust its budget instead.
“I think school districts generally understand the state’s facing a budget crunch and schools need to do their part,” he said.
LB 409 would revise the school aid formula to produce a state aid total matching the budget proposal advanced by the Appropriations Committee this week.
The changes would slow the growth of school aid to 2.1 percent per year for the two years ending June 30, 2019.
The resulting state aid for the coming school year would be $999.9 million. The total is projected to be $1.019 billion in the second year.
Without changes in the formula, school aid would grow 6.9 percent in fiscal year 2017-18 and 5.3 percent the following year.
Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said the bill is essential to balancing the state budget. Lawmakers started the year with a budget shortfall nearing $900 million.
Stinner noted that, even with the reduced funding, aid to K-12 education accounts for the single largest increase in the budget plan. The plan also calls for 1 percent annual growth in state special education funding.
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, an Education Committee member, urged support for the aid changes because of the state’s fiscal situation.
He warned that Nebraska cannot maintain quality schools if such funding limits continue. But he said he is not hearing a need for additional levy authority from the Lincoln Public Schools and would not support Kolowski’s amendment.
“I think everybody’s sufficiently disappointed with the bill,” he said. “It should be fine.”
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, another Education Committee member, said she would support the bill but believes changes are needed in how Nebraska funds its schools.
LB 409 would increase pressure on property tax payers, as well as Nebraska school districts. Many districts can raise property taxes to make up for changes in state aid.
The largest portion of school aid goes to districts with the greatest needs and the least ability to meet those needs from property taxes and other resources.
The rest of school aid is distributed to districts regardless of their resources.
LB 409 would affect all school districts by tightening spending limits, reducing the amount districts get for taking in option-enrollment students and increasing the amount districts are expected to get from property taxes.