Education funding bill advances despite legislative angst

May 9, 2023, midnight ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Legislature took another step Tuesday toward making major changes in how Nebraska pays for schools, even as senators’ strained personal relations continued to slow action on other proposals.

Part of Gov. Jim Pillen’s education funding plan -- calls for the state to give school districts $1,500 per student. That’s a boon to about two-thirds of the state’s mostly smaller, rural districts that currently get little to no state aid. The proposed bill – LB583 - also says the state, combined with the federal government, will pay 80 percent of costs to districts – rural and urban -- for special education students, up from around 40 percent currently.

In: This ensures that every school district benefits from Out: LB583

Time: 06

That’s Sen. Rita Sanders, who’s leading the charge for the bill. It would cost about $300 million a year, roughly 30 percent more than the current state aid program.

Part of the idea behind the bill is for the state to increase the share it pays for what it costs to run schools, so those schools won’t need to raise as much from property taxes as they do now. But Sen. Tom Briese said people need to watch what happens as a result of the big increase in state aid.

“Nebraskans are going to need help from their local school boards and their school administrators to try to ensure that these dollars yield property tax relief,” Briese said.

Money for the aid increase is coming from Pillen’s Education Future Fund, where he proposes to park about half the state’s projected $2 billion surplus. Describing that fund, Sen. Rob Clements, chair of the Appropriations Committee, said it’s intended to be sustainable.

In: The Education Future Fund… is $1 billion dollars this fiscal year, and $250 million the next fiscal year. And the funding after that is intent language.

It’s called “intent language” because this Legislature can’t legally tell a future Legislature what to do, like how much to contribute to the fund.

Senators voted second-round approval of the bill. But that followed four hours of debate, as opponents of a bill limiting health treatments for transgender youth continued their tactic of slowing things down to try and create pressure to peel away support for the bill. Sen. Wendy DeBoer said strained personal relations among the senators are making the Legislature dysfunctional.

“Nebraska. Your Legislature is blinking three times. We're not okay. It is every single one of us in here. It's me. It's you. It's all of us. If you don't think this message is about you, it is. Every single person in here. We are failing everyone,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer announced one of her fellow senators’ birthday. Traditionally, such an announcement produces a burst of applause.

“Today is Senator Hunt's Birthday. Happy Birthday Senator Hunt,” DeBoer said, prompting only sporadic applause.

“That was a little bit of a less-robust clapping than I would have hoped for. And that makes my point a little

bit,” DeBoer observed.

Sen. Mike Moser said that lack of camaraderie doesn’t surprise him, considering what he said at least three of his colleagues have told him.

“‘Don't talk to me. I don't want you to ask me about my family,” he sneered, adding “That's about the way it was delivered -- just like that. So I don't think you can treat others like that and then they expect everyone to clap for your birthday.”

For her part, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, a leader along with Hunt and others of the filibusterers, said she would stop slowing things down if the transgender health bill, LB574, is defeated.

“To those that say ‘Oh, if it fails she's not going to stop,’ that's a lie. I am going to stop. I want to stop right now. There's nothing I want more in this entire universe than to stop, and everyone who knows me in this body knows that that's true,” Cavanaugh said.

As controversial as the proposed trans health restrictions have been, anti-abortion advocates have now indicated they want to amend the trans health bill to include abortion restrictions. A final round of debate for the bill has not yet been scheduled.