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Policy group visits Sidney to explain public school funding

 

Ryan Hermens

Tiffany Joekel presented on school funding at a Sidney Rotary Club meeting.

Equations for public education funding vary among states and can be complicated.

A Lincoln-based, non-partisan policy institute is hoping to pull the veil back.

On Monday, representatives from the Open Sky Policy Institute stopped into Sidney to explain the state's school finance policy at a Rotary Club meeting.

Tiffany Joekel, the organization's policy director, said her group compiles data and research for lawmakers and citizens to use as tools.

Earlier this year, Nebraska legislators passed a budget that only grew by 3.5 percent – the third-lowest growth in 30 years, she said.

"The main reason that the Legislature was able to accomplish 3.5 percent budget growth was because the growth in state funding for education was also at a historic low," Joekel explained.

While all districts receive state aid, not all receive equalization aid.

State equalization aid for Nebraska school districts is based on a formula that calculates the financial needs of a district to educate its students and the revenue sources of the district. If the cost exceeds the expense, the state pays the difference.

The most substantial component in determining a district's resources is the amount of funds it could collect at the local level through property taxes.

This year, the state's contribution to schools was able to remain low because of increases in property valuations, Joekel said.

"As local resources go up, that pushes down what the state needs to contribute," she said.

Nebraska ranks 49th in the county for state investment in schools, Joekel added, and last year, 158 of the state's 245 districts did not receive equalization aid.

The heavy reliance on property taxes and low state support creates inequities among districts.

"The imbalance is growing," she said.

When asked what the solution is, Joekel responded that's up for lawmakers to decide, but added Open Sky advocates for more balance among the revenue sources for the state government.

 

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