LINCOLN — It will be next week or later before a legislative panel decides whether to advance a bill making fundamental changes in the Learning Community and its controversial common levy.

State Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, the Education Committee chairwoman, said Monday that she doesn’t plan to bring up Learning Community issues for committee consideration this week.

When she does, the focus will be on Legislative Bill 1067, which Sullivan introduced and has named as her priority bill for the session.

That measure drew the most testimony at Monday’s public hearings on five Learning Community bills.

Officials from nine of the 11 Learning Community districts spoke in support of the measure, although some called for amendments to it.

The nine were Millard, Elkhorn, Westside, Bellevue, Papillion-La Vista, Springfield Platteview, Douglas County West, Bennington and Gretna.

Officials from two districts — Omaha and Ralston — opposed the bill.

The Learning Community Coordinating Council took a neutral position.

Education Committee members generally gave little indication of their thoughts on the proposals, asking relatively few questions of testifiers during the hearings.

But Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte repeatedly questioned the cost of LB 1067, which was estimated at $17.3 million in its first year.

He asked why his constituents should have to pay more taxes to educate Omaha-area students in poverty. He also called for better accountability for the poverty dollars that are part of the current school aid formula.

LB 1067 would boost the maximum poverty aid available for schools by 5 percent if they collaborate on a plan to raise student achievement.

Poverty aid is one factor in the state school aid formula.

The Learning Community districts would be required to develop such a plan and would share $3.2 million in additional aid.

The bill’s cost would rise if other schools across the state opt to develop plans, as the bill allows.

LB 1067 also eliminates the common levy, which would cost the state $5.4 million more in school aid.

With the common levy, the 11 Learning Community districts pool their property tax revenues and all qualify for some state aid.

Without the levy, some districts would qualify for more state aid.

In addition, the bill would give three years of transition aid to the Learning Community districts harmed financially by the changes.

Sullivan said she proposed to abolish the common levy because she believes that it has become more divisive than helpful.

She said her bill would preserve the best elements of the Learning Community, such as the early childhood programs, elementary learning centers and truancy programs.

“I want all of those to continue, and I believe that they will,” Sullivan said.

LB 1067 carries out the original intent of the Learning Community by preserving it as a mechanism through which the Douglas and Sarpy County school districts can work together for the benefit of all metro-area students, she said.

State lawmakers created the Learning Community structure in 2007 to resolve boundary and funding disputes among the Omaha area school districts.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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