Nebraska Schools Facing Toughest Challenge Get Least Money

Last Updated: October 21, 2004

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Nebraska School Systems Inadequately and Inequitably Funded

CONTACTS: Jerry Johnson (740) 533-4579; Marty Strange (802) 728-4383

The Rural School and Community Trust, a national non-profit rural education organization, concluded that compared with higher achieving schools, the lowest achieving schools serve communities with more students who live in poverty, lower household incomes, fewer adults with high school diplomas, more students still learning the English language and more minority students.

But although they face greater challenges, they have a smaller local property tax base that produces less revenue, they receive less funding overall, and they spend less on teachers and less overall on a per pupil basis. "The study definitely supports the concerns raised by two recent lawsuits challenging the adequacy and equity of the Nebraska school funding system," according to Jerry Johnson, the study author and state policy studies manager for the Rural Trust. "Money matters, and in Nebraska, not enough money is going where it is needed most to raise student achievement to levels mandated by the state. Schools in Nebraska are being asked to make bricks without straw," said Johnson, who is based in Ashland, Kentucky.

The study compared financial resources and student characteristics for 256 Nebraska school systems. The systems were grouped into "high" and "low" achieving groups based on their student test scores over a three year period ending with the 2002-2003 school year, the most recent year for which all needed data was available.

Student achievement was measured for the study by the percentage of students in the school system that scored above national averages on reading and math tests and the percentage of students who scored proficient on writing over that period.

Those systems whose student achievement was better than the state average were then divided into four groups according to how much better than the state average they did. Each of the four groups had about the same number of students.

Those systems whose student achievement was worse than the state average were also divided into four equalsized groups according to how much worse than the state average they fared.

The state's three largest school systems—Omaha, Lincoln, and Millard—were omitted from the analysis in order to keep the number of students in each group about the same. Five small systems were left out because there was no test score data for them. Test score data from the Nebraska Department of Education and demographic data from the U.S. Census were used.

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