Educators reluctantly support state aid cuts


January 25th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Education officials reluctantly endorsed a proposed cut in the overall level of aid to state schools in a legislative hearing Tuesday. They were hoping to avoid a steeper cut.

Sen. Greg Adams' budget proposal for school aid next fiscal year is between $800 - $845 million (Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Legislature)

This fiscal year, schools are getting $950 million in aid. That includes $810 million from the state and $140 million in federal stimulus funds, which are going away. So the question is, how much will total state aid be next year? The answer, according to Education Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Adams of York, is somewhere between $800 and $845 million.

Adams presented bills proposing both those amounts to the Education Committee. School officials from around the state supported the higher amount, even though it’s still a significant reduction, which they said would hurt their districts. Among them was Grand Island Public Schools business director Virgil Harden.

“We’re prepared to do the things that we need to do,” he said, “but there will be reductions in services to children.”

Harden said in Grand Island, the reductions will hit “children most in need.”

“We have a high level of children in poverty,” he said. “We have a high level of children with special needs. Things that are on the table: transportation, our truancy program, social workers, counselors, paraprofessionals; as I go on with the list, it gets closer to the classroom.”

Among the few opposing the $845 million proposal was Douglas County West Community Schools Superintendent George Conrad, who said the proposal could force laying off 11 of 68 teachers. Conrad said there could be 23 layoffs if the lower, $800 million aid figure were adopted, and the school would lose accreditation. Adams said he didn’t like the $800 million proposal either, which he said would result in “dramatic cuts.”

Still, with most school funding coming from local property taxes and other sources, the $45 million difference between the two state aid proposals amounts to less than a two percent difference in overall school funding. However, agreeing on the level and how it’s to be distributed is expected to be a major issue for the Legislature over the next several months.

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