Omaha World-Herald. January 29, 2023.
Editorial: Gov. Pillen off to good start with Nebraska school funding proposal
Gov. Jim Pillen’s initial jump into Nebraska’s perennial, thorny debate over education funding is an impressive start.
Shortly after taking office, Pillen announced his self-described “compromise” plan to help make the state’s funding system work better for more of Nebraska’s K-12 schools.
And as reporting by World-Herald staff writer Henry J. Cordes showed, the proposal also demonstrated the new governor’s ability to be bold and open-minded in trying to solve one of Nebraska’s biggest challenges. Pillen’s approach smartly balances a variety of different concerns and priorities across the state he now leads.
He started by creating a broad, diverse task force, then listened to all sides during several meetings. Then he came back with a decisive plan that could benefit schools across the state.
Nebraska has long struggled with school finance policy. More than most other states, Nebraska has been sticking local homeowners, farmers and businesses with much of the bill for K-12 education through their property taxes. Since schools account for the largest share of such taxes, that high reliance has contributed to widespread discontent over the size of those tax bills.
Back in 1990, the Nebraska Legislature tried to address this by setting up the basis for the state’s current system of aid to school districts. It was intended to pour more state money into schools as well as equalize funding and tax burdens across districts.
In short, the aid formula calculates each district’s needs based on enrollment and other factors. Then it calculates how much of those needs each district would be able to cover locally, mostly through local property taxes, assuming a specified tax rate. Then the state provides enough aid, in theory, to support the remaining needs.
But as property valuations have gone up, more and more Nebraska districts — about two-thirds of them — have seen their tax bases rise, preventing them from receiving equalization aid at all. Most are small or medium-sized districts, typically in rural areas. Making them pick up most or all of the cost of K-12 education puts added pressure on their local taxpayers, including farmers and ranchers.
Meanwhile, state leaders have sometimes spent less on schools than the aid formula called for, in order to save money. Overall, Nebraska has slipped to 49th in the nation in the percentage of K-12 money that comes from state dollars.
As a candidate, Pillen complained that rural districts in particular were being unfairly treated. After his November victory, he doubled down on his criticism of the current system, saying it was “time to blow it up” — a comment that concerned some educators in urban areas who depend on the state aid promised under the current system.
But when Pillen came back to the school finance task force after the initial listening sessions, his plan didn’t blow up the current system. Instead, it would work along with the existing system to benefit both rural and urban districts.
First, rural districts and others that don’t qualify for equalization aid would receive $1,500 per student in foundational state aid — $113 million they don’t get now, which could help reduce their local property taxes.
Districts in the Omaha and Lincoln areas, as well as other cities, mostly wouldn’t get that extra money. But they also wouldn’t lose their current state equalization aid because of it.
Additionally, all districts would benefit from $157 million in added state support for special education programs. Despite past promises, Nebraska hasn’t been covering its share of special education costs, leaving local districts holding the bag.
All told, the combined $270 million boost in K-12 funding this year would work out to a 21% increase, the largest in a quarter century.
And to help ensure future funding for those two initiatives, Pillen also wants to transfer $1 billion in state funds this year into a trust fund that’s intended to grow eventually to $2.5 billion. Creating a reserve that can support the state’s school aid commitments in leaner times is a prudent and proactive approach.
Naturally, it helps that Nebraska state government is flush with cash right now. The state’s surplus enabled Pillen to craft a school finance plan that smooths out difficult issues by adding more money for everyone.
But Pillen’s plan isn’t merely “throwing money at a problem.” It’s a matter of using Nebraska’s resources wisely to develop its most important human asset: the state’s next generation.
Education is an essential function for the state, and putting money into it is, as the governor has said, an investment for the future.
State senators are likely to tinker with the details of Pillen’s proposals. There surely will be debates over possible improvements and even alternative ideas. We’re not saying that the governor’s plan is perfect as it stands.
But we do like how Pillen got to that proposal — how he moved beyond campaign rhetoric to a strategy that seems well-grounded in the legitimate needs of all Nebraska schools.
It’s encouraging that with this early policy initiative, Pillen is demonstrating leadership, a commitment to good governance and an aptitude for problem solving.
North Platte Telegraph. January 27, 2023.
Editorial: ‘Love them both’ must be mantra of abortion debate
The votes are there in our Legislature to greatly tighten Nebraska’s abortion laws following last summer’s long-overdue scrapping of Roe v. Wade.
That was shown last week as senators beat back pro-choice lawmakers’ quest to send Legislative Bill 626 to the committee they prefer.
Senators voted 32-14 Thursday against that ploy. A 33rd (a bill cosponsor) was absent. That’ll beat any filibuster.
So Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht’s bill will get its Health and Human Services Committee public hearing at 1:30 p.m. CT Wednesday in Lincoln.
All 49 senators, but especially those poised to upend 50 years of U.S. Supreme Court-dictated abortion law, must think well about what they say and do in these next weeks.
Two people should be at the forefront of their every word:
The unborn child, whose full humanity has for far too long been denied.
And the mother, who is never the only party involved in a child’s conception but lives forever with that child’s reality.
Both are equally covered by the opening of the Nebraska Constitution’s Article I, which copies the Declaration of Independence’s “self-evident clause”:
“All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain inherent and inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”
Balancing the inalienable rights to life of both the mother and her unborn child surely is the most delicate of tasks.
Achieving it frankly starts with something beyond the scope of LB 626.
We must forever repudiate the disastrous lie that there can be “sex without consequences” outside a permanent commitment between the man and the woman involved.
And we must resolve to teach each other and our children that humans must respect each other so profoundly that they never engage in intercourse without such commitment or force this most intimate of acts upon another.
A futile task? It surely is if we keep looking the other way while our culture keeps putting people in the situations driving many abortions — though by no means all.
Some circumstances unquestionably arise that LB 626 seeks to address, if yet imperfectly.
Its champions have commendably resolved to cover as many of them as possible. Identifying others, for their inclusion, ought to be a prime goal Wednesday and beyond.
(Let’s note first, though, that the words “six weeks” in connection with required testing for a fetal heartbeat appear nowhere in the bill. That’s a rule-of-thumb time period, nothing more.)
The bill already includes the well-known “three exceptions”: pregnancies that result from rape or incest or physically endanger the mother’s life.
LB 626 accounts (so far) for at least some other things that can go wrong in pregnancy, such as miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.
A skeptical group of Omaha physicians recently cited anencephaly — the development of a fetus without a brain and parts of the skull — as another such situation.
Address them all. With the help of groups like the Omaha physicians, preferably.
LB 626 also clearly intends that criminal punishment not be involved for mothers or doctors who act in good faith and in the best interests of both lives.
That may require medical procedures necessary for the mother to recover if her child does not or cannot live to be born. Some are also used in abortions, for quite different ends.
If LB 626’s protections aren’t rock-solid, keep refining them until they are.
Of all the factors that long have poisoned this debate, hardened hearts will be the toughest to overcome.
We speak to those who insist the question of who lives in an unwanted pregnancy is an either-or choice. Or dismiss the unborn child as not fully human — the lie of “otherness” common to all our species’ worst evils.
But we also speak to those who say they’re “pro-life” but regularly find reasons to deny aid and assistance to mothers, both during and after their pregnancies, fearfully facing what ought to be a joyful time but isn’t.
“Love them both,” said a prominent sign at this month’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., the first after Roe’s reversal.
It’s time for pro-life Nebraskans and their elected representatives to prove they do, against those insisting they never have.
Lincoln Journal Star. January 28, 2023.
Editorial: Don’t take power from people by eliminating board
The State Board of Education is elected and answers to Nebraskans, ultimately, through the ballot box. Unhappy with the board, Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, appears to want to punish the board by eliminating it. The ultimate victim, though, would be Nebraskans, who would lose their best tool to hold education officials accountable.
Albrecht has proposed LR24CA, a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the board and give the governor the power to appoint an education commissioner, if it is approved by senators, then voters in the 2024 election.
Albrecht’s amendment, she says, was triggered by the Nebraska Department of Education’s decision to develop health and sex education standards in a way that was both comprehensive in scope and inclusive of diverse genders and sexual orientation.
Following a public backlash,, the department suspended work on the standards. But was not enough for Albrecht, who is continuing to fight the culture war in attempting to wipe out the board.
Passing the amendment would clearly be an overreaction to the standards issue that is both short-sighted and anti-democratic.
Setting standards -- some of which, including those covering health and areas like fine arts, are voluntary and not required to be implemented by schools -- is just one of the board’s responsibilities.
And eliminating the board would transfer those duties, including formulation of education policy and budgets, overseeing Education Service Units, administering federally-established education programs and distributing federal funds and commodities, to the education department that would operate under a commissioner appointed by the governor.
In fact, the board is now in the process of selecting a new commissioner, one of its most important duties.
It will do so from a range of viewpoints, which should provide more representative choice, both statewide and from the education community, than would occur with a gubernatorial appointment that would inject more partisanship into the education system, which, in the view of the Journal Star editorial board, should, for the benefit of students, be as free of politics as possible.
In transferring the authority to the governor and eliminating the elected board, the amendment is anti-democratic on its face as it would also take control of state education policy away from voters.
In fact, voters in last year’s election demonstrated that they are fully capable of addressing their concerns by electing candidates who support their positions. In three of four contested state board races, the conservative candidate supported by a political action committee formed to oppose the sex ed proposal won.
Regardless of one’s views on individual issues the state board of education deals with, there is no reason to remove the power from the people in deciding who plays a role on a state level in education policy.