Gov. Pillen, state senators unveil Nebraska education legislation package

Three-bill package aims to invest in education, provide property tax relief
Gov. Pillen announces his plan to increase education funding
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 10:07 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Gov. Jim Pillen and several Nebraska lawmakers announced a three-bill package Tuesday to provide funds for education while easing state property taxes.

Pillen said the three-bill package focuses on education reform funding, implementing “necessary controls on spending.” The bills provide for quality education and funding for every student so that no student is left behind and so the state can increase what the state can provide for students.

The governor said the bills package will also address Nebraska property taxes, noting that the state expects to release its budget in a week, on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

The news comes as valuations are due to arrive in the mailboxes of property owners across the state.

“It has to be taken off the property tax. The valuations of continuing to tax and tax property owners in Nebraska, we have to stop that. Property taxes are out of whack and they can’t continue on,” Pillen said.

State Sen. Rita Sanders spoke about the first bill, which would provide $1,500 per public student, increasing funding to the state’s 180 districts. The bill would cover 80% of special education spending through federal and state funding.

That funding would be provided by the Education Future Fund, which would invest $2.5 billion in Nebraska education. State Sen. Robert Clements will be introducing a bill that would create that fund, which would dedicate $1 billion of Nebraska general funds to education starting in the 2023-24 fiscal year, with $250 million provided each of six years after that.

“Those aren’t there just to be spent; those are used to be invested based on needs. Gives everybody confidence that we meet the needs of kids and never quit on kids,” Pillen said.

The bill is also designed to provide property tax relief, Clements said, and retain teachers by way of grants for career and tech ed programs and increase mentoring programs for K-12 students.

State Sen. Tom Briese will be introducing the “cap bill,” which will limit school districts’ total revenue for public school districts to a 3% annual increase, with the asking authority fluctuating accordingly to provide for that limit.

Briese called it a “soft cap,” with ways of overriding it at the local level with a school district supermajority, he said.

“But we have to put something in place to try to ensure that these dollars yield property tax relief,” he said.

The proposed increase in spending runs contrary to the governor’s campaign emphasis on cutting spending, but he said the package doesn’t contradict his fiscal conservative values.

“There’s a big difference between spending and investing,” he said. “These are investments into the future of our kids, and these are investments that will also allow us to have a great impact on cutting property taxes across the state.”

Pillen called it a mechanism “that’s not overly onerous” to ensure accountability for school spending. Superintendents needing additional funds will have to get a supermajority “or take it before the people,” he said.

The governor said that an advisory panel from several sectors were also involved in putting together the legislation. Pillen said they met three times during the administration’s transition. Superintendents from around the state, including Dr. Cheryl Logan from Omaha Public Schools and Dr. Paul Gausman from Lincoln Public Schools, in addition to a former superintendent, current and former school board members, as well as representatives from Nebraska Farm Bureau and Nebraska Cattlemen assisted in an advisory capacity as the bills package was put together.

Calling the bills package a compromise, Pillen said he was particularly proud of the proposed funding for special education.

And the governor sees that willingness to invest in education as a prime recruiting tool for teachers and key to solving the state’s teacher shortage.

“My expectation is it will stimulate a lot of young people that say ‘I can have a great career as a teacher,’” Pillen said.

The governor plans to introduce further tax relief proposals at a news conference slated for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to a news release sent Tuesday afternoon.

Watch Tuesday’s news conference

Gov. Jim Pillen and several Nebraska state senators announced several education-related bills during a news conference on Tuesday morning, Jan. 17, 2023.