Fight for school dollars hits airwaves

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April 5th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – The fight over school funding in Nebraska is headed to the legislative floor, and to the airwaves.

Nebraska lawmakers are gearing up for a rhetorical fight, but the rhetoric isn’t confined to just the Capitol. Fair warning: there’s ominous advertising ahead, followed by a lot of numbers.

“Think about our schools without science labs…without art, music, even libraries,” says a narrator over menacing music in television commercial paid for by the Nebraska State Education Association – NSEA, the school employees’ union.

“Think about our schools without enough teachers,” the narrator continues. “Instead of 20 or 25 students to a class, try 40. Think it could never happen in Nebraska? Think again.”

The commercial is part of a $100,000, month long campaign that also includes email blasts, and Facebook and print ads. The object of all this? State senators who will be deciding how much money to send to schools next year.

The Nebraska schools' union is trying to ensure state dollars remain in the classroom next year. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

The Education Committee’s recommending $822 million. That’s more than the state’s spending on schools this year. But NSEA points out that with federal stimulus funding dropping off, total school aid would still drop by about $70 million under the legislative proposal. So are they advocating another $70 million to avoid any cuts? NSEA President Jess Wolf said, “In fact would like that to go back to those figures, but I’m sure that is not realistic.”

Wolf added, “If the state could get back to their $840 million, the cut would be only about $50 million, which is at least a little better than $70 million.”

Is your head spinning yet from all the numbers? In case you had trouble following along, Wolf is saying the NSEA would like senators to increase the Education Committee’s recommendation of $822 million, up to $840 million, to reduce the net loss to schools. And at a time when lawmakers are struggling to make the budget balance, where should this additional money come from?

“The economy appears to be coming back a little bit,” Wolf said. “The Forecasting Board in February had more positive figures. It appears that things are still improving. So the April forecasts may in fact be better than that. And if they are, we would like them to make sure that they put some of those additional dollars back into education.”

In other words, if the Economic Forecasting Advisory Board says the state revenue pie is growing, NSEA wants to be sure schools get a bigger slice. The next board meeting is April 28. Expect to hear a fair amount of ominous advertising between now and then.

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