Legislature Considers Changes to Schools’ Property Tax Funding

By Evan Carlson

How we fund our schools matters. In her book Cutting School, American Studies scholar Noliwe Rooks comments on the dangers of one such source of funding — property taxes.

“Because public schools are funded mostly by local property taxes, wealthier communities have the resources to spend more for school buildings, teaching supplies, administration, extracurricular programs, and technologies,” she states.

As such, the quality of education varies significantly depending on where a student lives, and students from poor neighborhoods disproportionately suffer.

Nebraska, more than most states, relies on property taxes to fund schools. A report from the Nebraska-based Open Sky Policy Institute found that 49% of Nebraska school funding came from property taxes in 2015. That same year, the average for all states was 29%. This 20% difference is startling, given its potential to further widen the gap in educational quality.

With these concerns in mind, it is important that we pay attention to a proposed legislative resolution from State Senator Tom Brewer. LR5CA would limit the amount of school funding coming from property taxes to a maximum of 33%. If this resolution were

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Senator Tom Brewer

to pass, schools would need to find other sources of funding besides property taxes. Ideally, this would mean a more equitable distribution of funding, benefiting students from poor communities that have been deprived of educational quality through inequitable property tax funding.

Currently, LR5CA is vague regarding where school funding would come from in lieu of a percentage of property taxes. Perhaps Nebraska will draw on other states’ funding models. For instance, a 2016 article from National Public Radio describes Wyoming’s approach to funding in which “some property tax revenues generated in mineral-rich districts like Campbell County are redistributed by the state to other, poorer districts.” North Carolina’s approach, adopted in 2013, has 66% of school funding coming from the state rather than local property taxes.

At the moment, it is uncertain whether LR5CA has any chance of passing, but it has the potential to especially benefit poor students, students of color, and students from rural communities.

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*Cover Photo by JP Ellgen. Creative Commons share alike.

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