Legislative Point with Julie Slama:

We are almost halfway through the session and things are heating up in the indoor debate. A familiar enemy has emerged this week: the urban-rural divide.

When it comes to lawmaking in Nebraska, one phrase is often used in floor debates over bills structured to benefit the Omaha metro: “What’s good for Omaha is good for the rest of the world.” ‘State”.

It’s a magic phrase meant to appease rural senators’ opposition to policies that don’t directly impact their constituency. The collegial approach is not reciprocal for rural communities. When rural legislators in the Legislative Assembly introduce bills to benefit their districts, they are almost always asked to make concessions to urban interests that far exceed any gain they might derive from a bill. Our school funding formula sums up this problem.

TEEOSA, the state’s primary funding mechanism for schools, leans heavily in favor of Nebraska’s twenty largest school districts. Nebraska’s three largest school districts – Omaha, Lincoln and Millard each receive hundreds of millions of dollars, representing more than 50% of TEEOSA’s funding. The next seventeen largest school districts, when combined with Omaha, Lincoln, and Millard, account for more than 75% of state funding through TEEOSA. On the other hand, more than 180 rural school districts do not receive a penny of state funding through TEEOSA. Rural districts depend almost entirely on property taxpayers to keep their lights on and their doors open.

The result of our system is clear: Nebraska provides less money to fund a student sitting in a Pawnee City classroom than sitting in a Papillion classroom. Our rural schools do an excellent job of educating our students, even when working within a funding system that puts them at a disadvantage. Changes to this formula to fairly fund students are routinely blocked by urban senators, who thwart funding proposals that would raise taxes in rural Nebraska to provide a small gain for small school districts, but most of the money being intended to support urban school districts.

Whether it’s negotiating school funding, property tax relief, rural economic development or rural broadband, it seems rural disadvantage in the body is far more pronounced than the narrow majority of 25 to 24 votes held by urban senators. Of course, what’s good for Omaha is good for Nebraska, but we should take the same approach to policies that are good for Otoe, Ogalla, Osceola and Ord.

As always, I appreciate your comments on matters important to you. Follow me on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both titled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604 ; phone: 402-471-2733; email: [email protected]