Monday, January 17, 2005


For all the donkey work the State of Nebraska puts local schools through, from paperwork to statewide assessment nonsense, it was surprising to learn from Gov. Johanns’ state budget proposal that state taxes have dropped to covering just 37.3 percent of the K-12 education pricetag.

When Nebraska went to the “Robin Hood” style of equalization, 15 years ago, siphoning more money off from the rich to spread out to the poor, the story was that state aid was going to cover 45 percent of that school spending bill and grant some lovely local property tax relief.

Suuuuuuuure. Instead, we got all kinds of new state and federal mandates on our schools in the 1990s associated with Outcome-Based Education (now called “standards-based”), Goals 2000 and now No Child Left Behind, while local funding sources are paying for more and more of the bills.

And the beat goes on: property taxes just keep going up and up, and there’s no pressure whatsoever on schools to curtail their overspending.

Local property taxes and other local revenue sources, such as various fees, are carrying nearly two-thirds of the load these days. Yet the State gets bossier and more micro-managing all the time.

The latest: state educrats want $50 million extra from the Legislature for all-day kindergarten, early childhood education programs, standards and assessments, teacher training . . . and all kinds of other stuff that’s expensive and counter-productive to our basic goal of making kids literate, numerate good citizens without bankrupting their parents and grandparents.

Shouldn’t the state’s say-so in K-12 education be decreasing concomitantly with its decreasing share of the load? Ya think?

Here’s what I think: repeal all statewide standards and assessments, pare down state ed regulations as much as possible, and make the state stick to ensuring basic safety protections and the few other bona fide government services they should be doing. That will save so much money that districts won’t need federal funding any more, so they can drop all that and get out from under most of those unfunded mandates, too.

Keep state aid flowing to schools, but simplify how it’s figured. Take the amount of money we have available in state aid to education, divide it by each district’s Average Daily Attendance (note: not “enrollment,” but attendance), and send out an amount of money that’s the same per-pupil whether you’re in Millard or Podunk.

Presto! No more wheelin’ and dealin’ . . . and much more focus for schools to stick to their knittin’ and accomplish their basic mission in a cost-efficient manner.

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