The 2018 legislative session is almost upon us and that means there will be some of the usual rhetoric from our Unicameral regarding public schools. It is almost guaranteed you will hear that school spending is out of control and property taxes are too high because of it. Instead of sitting back and waiting for this to happen, I thought I might address a few of these areas as they pertain to Lakeview Community Schools.
Nebraska schools had an average annual spending increase of 3.5 percent from 2003-2014. During this same time, the number of students being educated in Nebraska increased 8.16 percent and the number of students living in poverty increased almost 10 percent. While this growth was happening, the percentage of our state budget that is allocated for K-12 education decreased from 32 percent to 27.6 percent, which caused a decrease in the funds being distributed to schools by an estimated $187 million. Due to the decreased amount of state money being allocated for education, there is only one place left to generate the revenue needed to keep the school running and that is property taxes.
Lakeview will be the first to stand in line and say property taxes are too high! In fact, we have signed resolutions and have been on the front lines trying to create a better balance in our state funding. But until there is a more appropriate amount of money being allocated to all K-12 schools, our hands are tied into being over-reliant on property taxes. In fact, Nebraska is so reliant on property taxes that we rank seventh in the country in property taxes paid. While our percentage of K-12 funding that comes from state resources ranks 49th in the nation.
We often discuss in our patron budget meetings that we focus on what we can control, which is our spending. Lakeview, over the previous seven years, has had an average annual spending increase of only 0.7 percent. Yes, that is a less than 1 percent increase in expenses per year over the seven years. Over the last five years, we have also seen our student population grow by almost 35 percent. In addition, it is worth noting that only 15.6 percent of our total budget comes from state funds. That means 84.4 percent of our $10,723,672 in 2016-17 was generated from local, county and federal taxes. That percentage will tell you why our property taxes in the state of Nebraska are too high!
So as the legislative session begins, please know that schools are over-reliant on property taxes, but that is not due to overspending. It is due to a lack of funding for education from the state of Nebraska. And no one wants to see that change more than Lakeview!