Senate bill proposes $8.2 billion for State School Fund
Senate Bill 5517, the K-12 education funding bill, was amended Thursday morning to appropriate $8.2 billion for the State School Fund. That is $200 million less than school business officials say they need for current service levels and nearly $800 million less than they say they need to make progress on class sizes, programs and equity.
“How can we be content with mediocrity?” asked Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-Portland), who expressed disapproval over the funding level in a work session of the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee. Hernandez is a member of the Reynolds School Board.
Hernandez was temporarily replaced on the committee by Ways and Means Co-Chair Rep. Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene) before the vote to send the amended SB 5517 to the full Ways and Means Committee. Reps. Julie Parrish (R-Tualatin/West Linn) and Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) were opposed, and Nathanson’s vote was needed for a majority of representatives in favor. The bill’s next hearing has not been scheduled.
Education advocates were not happy with $8.2 billion either.
“The school funding proposal put forth this morning equates to failure,” said Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. “It amounts to a failure in leadership because it does not address the cost drivers and revenue reform issues that our own legislators have acknowledged are necessary. And it will lead to failure in our schools because it attempts to balance the state budget on the backs of our students.”
Morgan Allen, deputy executive director of policy and advocacy for the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, said the fight isn’t over.
“We will continue to advocate for $8.4 billion with our partners at OSBA, the Oregon Education Association and others,” he said. “$8.4 billion is what schools need to avoid laying off teachers, cutting class time and losing school days.”
District business managers calculated the State School Fund needs $8.4 billion for most schools to maintain current services in the face of rapidly rising Public Employees Retirement System and health care costs. Schools would need $8.93 billion to make progress and $9.97 billion to fund the non-partisan Quality Education Model, according to school business officials.
Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget, released in December, offered $8.02 billion. The Joint Ways and Means budget framework in January was lower, offering $7.8 billion.
Ways and Means Co-Chairs Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Rep. Nathanson said the governor’s budget was built on expected tax increases while their proposal assumed no new taxes. They also said at the time that they thought the services cuts in their budget were too drastic and Oregonians would demand change.
Since that framework, upbeat Oregon revenue forecasts have shrunk the projected shortfall for maintaining current services in the 2017-19 budget from $1.8 billion to $1.4 billion, even with the possibility of a kicker sending $408 million back to taxpayers.
The Legislature is still considering major business tax reform, and changes to the tax structure could lead to the Legislature adding money to the schools budget in end-of-session bills.
Oregon school districts have already begun preparing their budgets for the next biennium, though, based on possible funding numbers provided by the Oregon Department of Education. ODE posted estimates based on the governor’s budget and the co-chairs' budget, and it should have new estimates based on this appropriation within a day, according to an email from ODE School Finance Unit Director Mike Wiltfong. Districts must have a budget in place by July 1 and will have to pass resolutions to change their budgets if the legislative process drags on.
State analysts estimated the State School Fund needed $8 billion for schools to avoid cuts, but school business officials say the state underestimated salary and health care costs. School board committees in districts such as Lebanon Community Schools and Rainier have already presented budgets that include cuts even at $8.1 billion or $8.2 billion in the State School Fund.
During the Thursday morning hearing, education subcommittee members nearly universally decried the level of Oregon education funding.
Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River), recognizing the effort to increase funding from earlier proposals, said it was the first school budget he had voted yes on in his 6-year career, although reluctantly.
“I’ve always said it wasn’t enough,” he said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
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