NORFOLK, Neb. -- There are 279 public school districts in the state of Nebraska, and 279 different outcomes of Gov. Jim Pillen’s new plan for funding public schools. 

Nebraska currently ranks 49th across the nation in state tax dollar support of public schools. 

Under the current system, the state of Nebraska picks up just under 36% of the total K-12 education bill. The national average is slightly above 50%. 

Since Nebraska’s last education overhaul in the 1990s, which saw the introduction of equalization aid (the system which takes the unique needs of each district into account before distributing funds), public school districts across the state have been forced to increase property tax levies for more funding. 

Now only weeks after being sworn in, Pillen has made it a priority to make good on a campaign promise to simplify and improve the system for the widespread state funding of K-12 education. 

“This is something we’ve been asking for in the education community for a long time,” said Lakeview Community Schools' Superintendent Aaron Plas. “It’s an exciting bill.” 

Pillen said that no district will see less funding than it currently is. 

But the impact of this new proposed legislation could expose key differences in districts' financial situations. 

The main bill introduced into the Nebraska Legislature was LB583, which lays new groundwork for foundation aid and equalization in each district. 

State funding for school districts is received through two main thoroughfares.  

First is the equalization aid, which if approved, would provide all districts with at least $1,500 per student. Sixty-five percent of state districts, which already receive more than $1,500 per student, would not see any new funds.  

Most of these districts are in more rural areas where property values have significantly increased over the past decade. 

But the state's most populated school districts, generally in metro areas, could see up to millions of new dollars thanks to this equalization promise. 

The second prong of funding adds an 80% reimbursement for spending in special education. For a district already spending large portions of its budget on special education, this reimbursement will come as a significant bonus. 

“The special education funding, up to 80% would be welcomed by all districts,” said Todd Strom, superintendent of South Sioux City community schools. “Regardless of whether you’re equalized or non-equalized.” 

For example, 22% of all students receive at least some special education services in Columbus Public Schools. 

The result means some districts add millions into the annual budget and can make large investments into staff, infrastructure and student needs. 

While other districts might only see a small increase in funding, that wouldn’t necessarily change the outlook. 

“Since our foundation aid in 583 simply decreases equalization, the output is that our state aid number is the same,” said Chip Kay, Director of Finance and Human Resources for Columbus public schools. “We aren't going to be able to change much in what we ask for property taxes.” 

The long-term anxiety for many superintendents comes from one of the partner bills being introduced alongside LB583. 

LB681 creates an education trust. In a nutshell, this bill ensures that there are enough funds set aside over the next several years for LB583. 

“It's backing to ensure that we can continue to fund these two increases through those rough times,” Plas said. 

District administrations say this is important legislation, which further protects the execution of promises the state makes. 

LB589, however, puts educational spending on the defensive. The package creates a 3% cap on local property tax asking, compounding yearly. 

"They’re chasing a narrative that schools overspend,” Kay said. “But if you talk to most community members that know what’s going on, they’re going to tell you that most schools are good stewards of the taxpayer’s funds.” 

Meaning, school district A would not be able to increase their levy on property taxes by more than 3% each year. 

If the budget for school district A remains relatively steady, this isn’t an issue. The district should be able to continue functioning with about the same amount of expenses. 

In a community where property values and population are steady, the school wouldn’t generally have a reason to drastically increase the need for local dollars. 

But this can create a difficult dynamic for a school district in an area with a rising student population. Growing towns like Gretna, Bennington or Columbus will likely see budget requirements increase alongside student body numbers in the next few years. 

Here’s the worst-case scenario under the proposed new restriction: School district B has a growing student population, with limited space for new classrooms, and they did not receive any new equalization funding since revenue from local property taxes exceeded $1,500 per student. 

Under the new plan, the only increased funding for school district B is a reimbursement percentage of expenses in special education. 

With a combination of necessary new infrastructure, staff, and inflation due to growth, the annual increase of school district B’s expenses is likely to be larger than 3%. 

Imagine the estimated necessary budget increase for school district B is a growth of 7% annually. 

Under the current plan, the district would likely increase its current property levy 7%, to avoid losing money and being subsequently forced to cut staff or programs. 

With additional population and rising property values, this increase would be easily passed by the local community and seen as a reasonable increase, those concerned with the legislation say. The more property owners, the less each must pay toward the levy. 

Under LB589, the district would be forced to cap their increase at just 3%. Creating a spending deficit for that year of 4%. 

Starting this year, if the district grew at an average of 5% every year for 10 years and were forced to only increase a property levy by 3% each year, they would be 20% underfunded by the year 2033. 

“If you were to compare that to the Nebraska state budget, their budget is just over 4% annually,” Kay said. “You’re asking schools to be more fiscally conservative than our own government.” 

In this scenario, the funding created by LB583 intended to support schools and avoid raising property taxes, would be handicapped by LB681, without the necessary amount to satisfy the increasing amount of expenses. 

“The programs continue to grow, the needs continue to grow,” Kay said. “That makes it incredibly difficult to meet the needs of our students without additional funds.” 

For inquisitive property owners, the next time a neighboring district lowers its levy, and your district doesn’t, the school’s administration may not be to blame. Their district likely receives less help from the state to begin with. 

With LB583, all schools will win today, but some could be handicapped for the future, some administrators say.

Superintendents tell News Channel Nebraska that one the biggest issues facing education in the state is the ability to improve teacher wages and retaining high quality teachers. For many districts, this new money in their pockets isn’t directly aimed at fixing this shortage. 

Superintendents say the best education systems retain the best teachers with wage and job security. For superintendents leading Nebraska, this overhaul, while helping in the short term, won’t ensure long term sustainability for their staff. 

This creates another issue for districts near state borders, they must compete for staff against out-of-state districts which don’t have to compete with a 3% cap. 

For talented young teachers entering an already low-paid career in education, the lack of a cap could make the difference in long term salary stability, and value of benefits, administrators say.

“That really affects how we can pay our teachers,” said Erin Heineman, director of business operations for South Sioux City Community Schools. “Those school districts across the river might not be facing a 3% cap and they are more competitive possibly." 

The proposed plan has been widely praised. After all, in total amount, the proposal marks the largest increase in Nebraska State Education funding history. 

And schools are thrilled that the current governor is tackling what they feel has been a neglected issue in a meaningful way. 

"We appreciate the dialogue that he (Gov. Pillen) has established,” Strom said. “It’s a very tough job to tweak that TEEOSA formula in a way that meets the needs of all school districts, and we understand that challenge.”