LINCOLN — Nebraska school districts could soon know how much state aid money they will get next year.
State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill changing how those dollars get split among districts. The bill passed 47-0.
Legislative Bill 407 now goes to Gov. Dave Heineman, who has until Tuesday to sign or veto it.
State Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, the Education Committee chairwoman, said she is hopeful the governor will sign the bill into law.
She noted that it provides for school aid amounts that are similar to the amounts Heineman included in his budget recommendations.
LB 407 represents a compromise between smaller and larger school districts and is a key part of balancing the state budget.
The measure revises the school aid formula used to divide aid among the 249 public school districts.
It also reins in the growth of school aid, compared with what would be required under the existing formula.
Current law would require an average 7 percent increase in school aid over the two fiscal years starting July 1. The compromise holds the increase to about 5 percent over two years.
“I wasn't happy with the compromise, but we did what we had to do,” Sullivan said.
She said the Education Committee plans to undertake a comprehensive review of the state school aid formula in the coming months.
Sullivan said she has concerns about whether the formula is working as it should.
The number of school districts qualifying for state aid has decreased as agricultural land values have risen steeply. The trend has put more pressure on property taxpayers.
Many small, rural districts also are losing aid because of declining numbers of students.
“We've got some imbalances going on,” Sullivan said.
Meanwhile, the state's larger school districts have low spending per student but have little room to increase spending because their property taxes are already at or near the maximum allowed under state law.
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 is intended to equalize resources available to educate students and to relieve property taxes.
By law, state education officials are to certify each school district's state aid for the coming school year by June 1.
However, estimates produced by the State Department of Education show that the Omaha Public Schools would gain $17.9 million of state aid compared with the current year. That amounts to a 10.7 percent increase.
The Lincoln Public Schools would get a boost of $16.5 million — or 20.4 percent — while the Millard Public Schools would get $8.1 million — or 11.2 percent — more.
School aid is the largest single expenditure in the state budget.
Under LB 407, the state would provide $906.6 million for K-12 schools in the fiscal year starting July 1.
The amount would grow to $940.2 million in the following fiscal year.
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