Dear Editor,

Chadron Public Schools (CPS) remains extremely concerned about our over-reliance on local property taxes to fund our annual operations. Property tax burdens in Nebraska are excessive. Nebraska farmers and ranchers pay the highest property taxes in the nation and Nebraska’s residential property tax burden is the seventh highest in the nation.

Nebraska has a school-funding problem.

4 Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%. Over 68% of our 2016-17 funding came from local property taxes!

4 Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%. Just under 17% of our 2016-17 funding came from state sources.

4 Only approximately 70 districts receive aid through the Tax Equalization and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA), leaving 175 districts to rely on the property tax for almost all funding.

4 Despite CPS’s expenses increasing at only 1.2% per year, there has been no revenue increase over the past ten years. However, the distribution of funding sources has dramatically changed.

4 Local Property Taxes have replaced the loss of State Aid and other federally funded programs during the past 10 years.

In 2012 Chadron formed a Legislative Committee to seek a legislative solution to the property tax dilemma. The group actively testified at hearings, wrote letters, visited with state senators, proposed legislation, and worked collaboratively with other groups. We want to thank the numerous elected officials and organizations for listening and providing assistance. This past year Chadron’s Legislative Committee worked with elected officials and agriculture and school groups through “Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education” to pursue legislative action to remedy the issue. Senator Tom Briese’s office, with support from “Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education,” drafted LB 1084, which we hope will gain traction and help move us closer to a legislative solution of this complicated issue.

However, we may need three components (legislative action, ballot initiatives, and lawsuits) to get the attention of the legislative body. It remains our hope that our elected officials will pass legislation in this 2018 session to finally address how public schools are funded. If no legislation is passed logical next steps for educational and agricultural related organizations may be to analyze and pursue the “ballot initiative” scheduled for November 2018 about which we have many questions and concerns at the present time or a lawsuit against the State of Nebraska. If CPS were to consider a lawsuit, we would do so with several other partners to ensure that it would come at no cost to us.

Some of the main tenets of a potential lawsuit could center on the following legal points.

The Nebraska State Constitution requires that the State, not local political subdivisions, provide a free and public education to all persons between the ages of 5-21 years.

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While the State can delegate the duty for providing the education to school districts, by doing so, it cannot avoid the obligation to finance the “free and public education” guaranteed by the State with a local tax that does not provide substantially equal revenues for each district.

Students are denied equal protection in their right to a free and public education across the State and school districts are treated differently and are denied equal protection by current legal funding mechanisms.

Landowners are also compromised by the property tax methods used to finance public education because this financing scheme, which produces widely variant mill levels from district to district due to educational costs, prevents statewide uniformity and proportionality in the imposition of property taxes on an ad valorem basis.

We remain committed to our students and patrons to pursue all possible actions to find meaningful change for school funding in the Chadron Public School District and all of Nebraska! We want a legislative solution to the school-funding problem. However, legal action will be strongly considered without evidence of meaningful change as the 2018 Legislative Session moves forward. The people of Nebraska need to band together and insist it is time for a change in the way our public schools are funded.

Dr. Caroline Winchester,

Chadron Public Schools Superintendent

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