*Editor’s Note, this is the first installment in a series about addressing issues in rural schools.
As President of the Nebraska State Education Association, Jenni Benson is on a mission to find solutions for issues found in rural schools in order to guarantee every student the chance to have a quality education.
Benson stopped in Alliance recently, and shared the details of her journey through Nebraska’s schools and her findings with the Alliance Times-Herald. She said one of the issues receiving the most attention is school funding.
“Communities like their public schools because they like that local control,” said Benson. “They like to say ‘how can our community adapt and modify our schools to meet the needs of our community.’ That’s very unique as I travel across the country. We like that. We want to keep that, but we also want to figure out how this property tax issue can be dealt with. We need to really look at the issue of property tax, sales tax, income tax and how to figure out how to equalize it. We have, I think, 178 school districts that don’t get that equalization formula through the state, and that does not help, because they are heavily reliant on property tax, because they are only getting state aid for special education, or title, or some of those programs.”
Benson believes there needs to be compromise on the property tax issue in order to resolve it.
“You can’t do it by completely taking away something and blowing a hole in the budget of something else,” Benson said. “I hope (the Legislation) has more conversation about it, because that is something we really are working on. Last year during the Legislature, we had quite a few bills on the table that we left on the table, that never really got to the floor or out of committee that had some good solutions. That is one thing we are really going to be working on. It is a short session, so I’m hoping they start with it.”
Forming relationships between schools, business leaders and agricultural producers is fundamental, Benson said. She noted that she serves as a representative on several different boards comprised of people from different backgrounds. She explained that when people engage in the discourse about education needs and school funding, a solution can be found that will ensure a bright future for Nebraska.
“We’re all interested in the same thing,” Benson said. “What we’re interested in is kids. We’re interested in the future of Nebraska, which we believe is our children. We’re figuring out ways to invest in our children and make sure they are ready for the future, and that they’re going to stay in Nebraska.”