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Want lower property taxes? Schools say state needs to provide more funding

Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln gestures, as he argued against a property tax bill that he said would harm schools (NTV News)

Education is an investment in the future. But when it comes to percent of state dollars that fund local schools, only one state ranks below Nebraska.

Census data shows it’s close to a 50/50 split in many states, with balance between local taxes and state funding.

But Nebraska is a different story, and educators say lawmakers need to have tough conversations.

York Superintendent Mike Lucas said, “We've got to find a better way to fund public education in Nebraska and it truly is a funding issue, it's not a spending issue as a lot of people want you to believe.”

Census data shows 60 percent of Nebraska school funding comes from local sources like property taxes, and 40 percent from the state.

Only South Dakota is less balanced.

The York superintendent calls on lawmakers to act.

Lucas said, “Study different ways to fund schools so we're not so reliant on property taxes. And additional revenue, that opens up a can of worms. I'm not sure where that comes from, I don't envy their position.”

New revenue means higher taxes elsewhere.

Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln said during debate this week, “What is required to have meaningful property tax relief is to increase other revenue other than local property taxes.”

The governor suggests schools need to tighten their belts. In York, the superintendent says they've done that, but other factors have driven up the burden on local taxpayers.

“Property tax dollars are not providing additional money for school districts, they're replacing lost state and federal revenues in many, many cases,” Lucas said.

And higher property taxes hit farmers the hardest, because they own the most land, and valuations skyrocketed when commodity prices went up.

Mike Lucas says the legislature needs to overhaul school funding. He said Sen. Mike Groene and Sen. Curt Friesen are on the right track, even if he finds flaws with their proposal, LB 640.

Will it happen this year? Lucas doesn’t think so.

“The way the stars are aligning, schools are going to be the scapegoat again,” he said.

Lucas said York could have cut a million dollars from the budget, but with rising farm land valuations and the loss of state that resulted, it would have barely made a difference.

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