2005: Introduction


The Complete History of the Nebraska Tax Equity
and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA)
Policy History Navigation



More than 350 people attended the public hearing and another 400 or more listened throughout the Capitol hallways and within the rotunda where TV monitors had been arranged. ;nbsp;The legislation at issue proposed to eliminate Class I (elementary-only) school districts. ;nbsp;The bill allowed such districts to voluntarily merge with a K-12 district by a certain date, or would be required to do so by a reorganization committee. ;nbsp;"It's a glacier force that we are putting into motion that should not be stopped," said a co-sponsor of the bill, who added, "The bill does everything within its power to protect local authority and autonomy."1 ;nbsp;The same state lawmaker would later defend the legislative proposal saying that, "This is a state issue, not an urban issue or a rural issue."2

Opponents of the measure countered with arguments of local control, student/parent choice, and a host of evidence that seemed to indicate that smaller is better, at least for some communities. ;nbsp;"Some Class I (schools) should be merged but not all Class Is should be merged," admitted a rural-area lawmaker and principal opponent of the legislation.3;nbsp;Ironically, opponents of the Class I reorganization bill would lose the battle, but ultimately win the war. ;nbsp;The people had the final word on the matter and voted to repeal the law at the General Election. ;nbsp;The year was 1986.

Mark Twain is credited with the saying, "History doesn't repeat itself - at best it sometimes rhymes."4;nbsp;This seems to be an appropriate summation of the events in 1985-86 in comparison to those occurring some twenty years later. ;nbsp;Much of the same issues brought to bear in 1985 were rehashed in 2005, just as they were rehashed from decade to decade in the whole of the 20th Century. ;nbsp;The reorganization of elementary-only school districts is quite simply one of the oldest, most bitterly contested education issues in the history of the State of Nebraska. ;nbsp;And by the conclusion of the 2005 Session, proponents of mandatory reorganization would once again believe they succeeded, while opponents would once again seek a definitive answer from the electorate.

The 1985 legislation, LB 662, required Class I schools, that are not part of a Class VI (high school-only) school district, to merge with a K-12 school district or become part of a Class VI district prior to September 1, 1989. ;nbsp;County reorganization committees were directed to dissolve districts that do not comply with the merger requirements of the bill.5 ;nbsp;Governor Bob Kerrey signed the bill into law even though he did not particularly care for one of the other major provisions of the measure: ;nbsp;a tax increase. ;nbsp;LB 662 was amended during floor debate to include a one-cent sales tax increase in order to help pay for the property tax relief component of the legislation. ;nbsp;In addition to the mandate for reorganization, LB 662 placed a cap on the level of funding for schools derived from property taxes at 45% of total of operational costs.6;nbsp;Naturally, this meant the other 55% of necessary funding must derive from state and/or federal aid. ;nbsp;The idea was that the bulk of the additional funding would come from the State.

LB 662 was passed by the Legislature on April 18, 1985 by a narrow 25-23 vote.7 ;nbsp;Governor Kerrey deliberated whether to sign or veto the measure until the very last hour of his allotted five-day consideration period. ;nbsp;Within a short time after Governor Kerrey signed the bill into law, a citizen group organized to repeal the legislation through a vote of the people. ;nbsp;Referendum 400 appeared on the November 4, 1986 General Election ballot and almost 68% of all registered voters participated in the election. ;nbsp;No doubt the heavily publicized and hard fought battle over Referendum 400 having a significant impact on the high turnout. ;nbsp;The ballot question to retain LB 662 was answered loud and clear. ;nbsp;No. ;nbsp;A full 66.5% voted against retention of the 1985 legislation while only 33.5% voted in favor.8

Even some Class I advocates took the 1986 election results as less an endorsement of their small schools as a resounding defeat of a tax increase. ;nbsp;"Oddly enough," said Rick Baum of the Nebraska School Improvement Association, "it was the finance portion of the bill that seemed to pass the bill in the Legislature, but it was the finance portion of the bill that defeated the bill on the ballot."9;nbsp;The Nebraska School Improvement Association was instrumental in launching the referendum effort, but many believe it was the state and local chambers of commerce that had most to do with the success of the repeal effort. ;nbsp;The business community was simply unwilling to go along with a sales tax increase. ;nbsp;In fact, some attribute the tough stance taken by candidate Kay Orr against the tax increase as a major contribution to her ascension to the Office of Governor in 1986.

There would be similar legislative attempts following the 1985-86 effort to force Class I consolidation, but most were akin to shots across the bow in order to pave the way for some other agenda. ;nbsp;LB 806 (1997), for instance, did not originally contain a Class I reorganization element. ;nbsp;As the bill emerged from committee, however, it suddenly incorporated provisions for mandatory consolidation. ;nbsp;The proponents of the bill were willingto let go of the reorganization piece if opponents of the bill went along with some of the other controversial school finance provisions. ;nbsp;Proponents of the bill essentially agreed to give up that which they did not originally seek to achieve, an interesting political ploy to say the least. ;nbsp;But it worked, at least for proponents of LB 806.

It was not until 2004 that a serious effort to reorganize Class I districts was once again launched in the Nebraska Legislature. ;nbsp;Senator Ron Raikes of Lincoln, chair of the Education Committee, sponsored LB 1048 (2004) along with 14 other co-sponsors, both rural and urban-based lawmakers.10 ;nbsp;The basic concept behind the legislation was to "assimilate" all Class I districts into a high school district effective on June 15, 2005.11 ;nbsp;However, an effort was made to give patrons of Class I districts control over their own destiny to a certain extent. ;nbsp;The bill offered an opportunity for Class I districts to conduct public hearings on the merger process and forward a "statement of commitment" to the State Committee for the Reorganization of School Districts.12

LB 1048 was the product of one of the most comprehensive studies conducted by the Legislature on the issue of school organization, in fact, the entire organization of schools in the State of Nebraska. ;nbsp;The study was conducted as a part of an interim study (LR 180), which was filed during the 2003 Session. ;nbsp;The outcome of the study was a wealth of data on the existing school structure, analysis on the potential savings due to consolidation, and three alternatives for legislative action. ;nbsp;The alternatives included passage of LB 698, a leftover school finance bill from the 2003 Session, the use of financial incentives to encourage reorganization, and the "assimilation" of Class I districts into K-12 systems. ;nbsp;It was the latter of these alternatives that was embodied in LB 1048, a bill supported by both the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators (NCSA).13 ;nbsp;LB 1048 was advanced from the Education Committee, but was never debated on the floor.14 ;nbsp;The bill was indefinitely postponed by virtue of the conclusion of the 2004 Session since no bill may carryover to the start of a ninety-day session.


Coming soon...

Coming soon...

Who benefits from this website?

  • All students of school finance
  • Policymakers
  • School administrators
  • School board members
  • Teachers
  • Parents
  • Graduate students

We welcome your feedback concerning this site.

Stay in Touch!

NCSA Text Alerts

#NCSAmike, #NCSAdan

Like the NCSA FB page