LINCOLN (AP) — A national school-finance expert echoed a concern on Wednesday that many Nebraska schools have raised in recent years: State aid needs to be predictable.
Policy analyst Michael Griffith advised Nebraska lawmakers to look for ways to make it easier for schools to anticipate how much money they will receive from state government.
Griffith, who works for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, said schools want the ability to predict how much state money they might gain or lose with each student.
But state aid for individual districts has fluctuated in recent years, in part because of surging farmland values and rising student enrollment in urban schools. The shift has led to conflicts between small and larger districts. Members of the Legislature's Education Committee are looking at ways to change the formula.
“One of the goals, we always say, is not to make the formula less confusing, but to make it more predictable,” Griffith said. “I have no idea how my microwave works ... but it's predictable. I put my coffee in there, wait 30 seconds, and it always heats it.”
At stake in the formula is nearly $1 billion per year in “equalization aid” from the state, which helps public school districts fill the gap between their needs and what they can cover through local property-tax revenue. School funding is the single largest budget item that lawmakers have debated in recent years.
The formula also gives more money to districts that maintain longer school years and employ more highly educated teachers.
The work session on Wednesday was part of a broader legislative study of the formula. A group of lawmakers will travel around the state next month to gather input from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders.
Sen. Kate Sullivan, chairwoman of the Education Committee, said lawmakers are starting anew with changes to the formula.
“It takes a while for things to start to gel,” Sullivan said. “But I think we'll get there eventually.”
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.