Legislative Update, Spring 2018
For some time Westside has been closely monitoring legislation at the Nebraska Unicameral that will impact our school district. We have been working closely with our contract lobby firm, Kelley Plucker and specifically, Sean Kelley, as well as the Westside administration and Board of Education, to determine how many of the bills introduced this session will affect Westside and our students. Members of the administration and Board of Education have been meeting with and contacting various state legislators in Lincoln and Omaha, and we have testified against several bills and hosted legislators at Westside so they can tour some of our innovative and successful programs.
As you know, the State of Nebraska is facing a budget shortfall. Westside is diligently monitoring legislation because we oppose the State balancing the budget shortfall to the detriment of Westside.
But we need your help. We have listed below a few of the bills we are currently closely watching. We ask that you review this list and be prepared to help us take a position with our legislators when votes arise and we need to be heard.
LB295 (Senator Smith) – Opportunity Scholarship Act – This bill allows for dollar-for-dollar tax credits for individual and corporate donors who give to organizations providing scholarships for students attending private schools. We oppose any effort to take money out of the state revenue stream/public school system for the benefit of private schools. We also believe that institutions benefiting from legislation such as LB295 should be subject to the same accountability requirements, including rigorous state testing and publicly-elected school boards, in order to ensure that high student achievement standards and fiscal responsibility are attained, and we question the wisdom of degrading revenues when there is a $200 million state deficit and statewide need for property tax relief. BOE members Beth Morrissette, Kris Karnes and Adam Yale met with Senators Theresa Thibodeau and John McCollister to discuss our opposition to this bill in February 2018. Senator Linehan prioritized LB295 and it will be debated this year. Westside is opposed to LB295.
LB608 (Senator Linehan) – Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act -This bill creates a school voucher program which would require public school districts with poorly performing schools to pay the lesser of (a) 75% of the anticipated revenue per student to a private school for any eligible student, or (b) the cost of regular tuition, books, and uniforms to a private school for any eligible student. The home public school district would also be required to transport eligible students to private schools. The remaining 25% of anticipated revenue per participating student would go into a property tax relief fund to lower property taxes the following school fiscal year. While Westside does not have any schools that fit these criteria, we oppose any effort to take money out of the public school system for the benefit of private schools. We also believe that institutions benefiting from legislation such as LB608 should be subject to the same accountability requirements, including rigorous state testing and publicly-elected school boards, in order to ensure that high student achievement standards and fiscal responsibility are attained. Note also that there is no requirement that the private school be performing better than the failing public school. BOE member Dana Blakely testified against this bill in 2017.
LB630 (Senator Larson) – The Independent Public Schools Act – This bill would permit a separate government commission to create charter schools in Nebraska. These charter schools would receive funding from the state and the student’s home public school district would be required to provide transportation for students to the charter schools within that district. We oppose any effort to create charter schools which take money out of the public school system for the benefit of schools which are not subject to the same accountability requirements, including rigorous state testing and publicly-elected school boards, in order to ensure that high student achievement standards and fiscal responsibility are attained.
LB778 (Senator Groene) – Require voter approval for school district building fund levies – This bill clarifies that the special tax (building fund) could not be used to build a new school building, add additional footage to an existing school building, or purchase land upon which new buildings will be located. School districts looking to utilize the building fund to do these activities must receive approval through a vote of its citizens at a general or special election. The Education Committee prioritized LB778. Westside is closely monitoring this bill to determine what impact, if any, it and any proposed amendments will have on Westside.
LB998 (Senator Walz) – Create the Collaborative School Behavioral and Mental Health Program – This bill would create the Collaborative School Behavioral and Mental Health Program, which would allow each Educational Service Unit to hire a social worker to work with parents, schools and health providers. The program would be funded through the Collaborative School Behavioral and Mental Health Fund, which will initially be funded through private donations. After three years the cost to continue the program would be shared equally by the ESU, the school districts within the ESU, the General Fund, and private donations. LB998 has been prioritized by Senator Bolz. Westside is closely monitoring this bill because it is an unfunded mandate for school districts with minimal benefit to Westside who will have to share the social worker with multiple school districts.
LB1069 (Senator Brasch) – Committee on Americanism – This bill changes provisions related to the Committee on Americanism and requires, among other things, that school districts develop and utilize formative, interim, and summative assessments, including the one-hundred-question civics portion of the naturalization examination administered by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, to determine mastery of the social studies standards adopted. LB1069 is Senator Brasch’s priority bill. Westside is closely monitoring this bill as it is redundant to curriculum Westside already has and would require additional standardized testing of our students.
LB1081 (Education Committee) – Various items – This bill changes education provisions regarding reporting, penalties, residency, boundaries, priority schools, subpoena authority, poverty, and limited English proficiency. LB1081 is one of the Education Committee priority bills and is regarded as the Department of Education “clean-up” bills. LB1081 was prioritized by the Education Committee. Westside is closely monitoring any amendments to this bill to determine what impact, if any, it will have on Westside.
Tax Reform/Property Tax Relief
LB640 (Senator Groene) – Decrease school levy – Under LB640 the maximum mill levy would be reduced from $1.05 to $0.98 7/10 , and the property tax credit across the state would be recalculated. The potential impact of LB640 to the Westside Community Schools is the loss of significant revenue plus the annual loss of a portion of the property tax credit. BOE member Kris Karnes met with Senator Pansing Brooks, and Dr. McCann and Brian Gabrial met with Senator Groene to discuss our opposition to this bill in 2017. Senator Groene prioritized LB640 and will be debated again this session. Westside is opposed to LB640.
LB651 (Senator Linehan) – The Nebraska Reading Improvement Act – As currently drafted this bill would require that each Nebraska public school student’s progression from third grade be determined, in part, upon proficiency in reading. The amended version is a “compromise” from the NSEA and other school districts, and Westside was part of the discussion with improvements to the bill, including the removal of provisions requiring students to be retained in third grade. This bill has not been prioritized; Westside is closely monitoring it to determine whether additional amendments would impact Westside.
LB829 (Senator Erdman) – Adopt the Property Tax Relief Act – This bill would require the State of Nebraska to provide an income tax credit of 50% of the property tax paid to the school district. This would cost the state over $1 billion by 2020-2021. This idea is also the subject of a petition drive. Senator Erdman prioritized LB829. Westside is opposed to this bill because it will decrease state revenue, which would impact funding for public education.
LB947 (Senator Smith on behalf of the Governor) – Adopt the Nebraska Property Tax Cuts and Opportunities Act – This bill changes income tax rates, and eliminates certain exemptions and credits. Senator Smith prioritized LB947. Westside is closely monitoring this bill to determine what impact, if any, it will have on Westside.
LB1084 (Senator Briese) – Adopt the Property Tax Request Limitation Act – This bill provides sunset dates for certain tax exemptions and incentives, and changes other revenue and taxation provisions. It impacts school district growth; the intent is to shift money away from credits and sales tax exemptions for more money to property tax relief and education. LB1084 has been prioritized by Senator Briese; Westside is focusing on the intricacies of the bill and opposes the introduced version of LB1084 because it would stifle Westside’s revenue growth and penalize us for use of alternative revenue sources.
LB1103 (Senator Friesen) – Provide a minimum amount of state aid for each school district – This bill seeks to provide each “unequalized” school district with a sum equal to 25% of the basic funding amount set out in the formula needs computation for that district. “Equalized” school districts will continue to receive their current equalization and will not be affected. Senator Friesen prioritized LB1103. Westside is closely monitoring this bill to determine what impact, if any, it will have on Westside. Westside is currently an “unequalized” school district.
LB1106 (Senator Linehan) – Changes to Levy Overrides – This bill changes the requirements for passing a levy override from a majority of the votes voting on that issue in a special election to a majority of the votes cast in the last statewide primary election. We are concerned that basing the outcome of our levy override election on the number of votes cast in a prior, unrelated election stifles the voices of our voters and denigrates local control. It should also be noted that we have had more votes cast in our last two special elections than in the primary election, but we realize that may not always be the case. BOE member Beth Morrissette testified against this bill in February 2018. Westside is opposed to this bill.