‘8.2 just won’t do’ becomes rallying cry against proposed State School Fund figure
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Despite widespread committee agreement that $8.2 billion wasn’t enough for schools, the Joint Ways and Means Committee sent the K-12 education funding bill to the Senate floor Tuesday.
Before the work session, education advocates lined the Capitol hall chanting, “8.2 just won’t do.”
“I was the first one to walk through the gantlet and I have to tell you, I have always been a huge supporter of education and that stunk,” said Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton). He added: “8.2 will have to do.”
Tina Leaton, an Oregon Education Association board member, said before the hearing that Senate Bill 5517 is $200 million short of what most schools need just for current service levels.
“$8.4 billion fills the status quo,” she said. “$8.6 billion gets us closer to what we need to sustain progress.”
House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) expressed the same sentiment in the hearing.
“I wish I could say that passing this budget today puts our kids on the pathway to a more stable and vibrant education … but instead the budget we are passing today is not even the status quo for some of our districts,” she said.
Several on the committee pointed out that $8.2 billion was more than schools were told to expect earlier in the session. They said the Legislature had done a remarkable job scraping up as much as it did given that the state is facing a $1.4 billion shortfall for the 2017-19 biennium. Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget called for $8 billion for schools, and the Ways and Means budget framework called for $7.8 billion.
State analysts calculated that a “no cuts” State School Fund would require $8 billion. School district budget proposals in recent weeks, though, suggest that isn’t enough. Districts that built their proposals on high-end expectations of $8 billion or $8.1 billion say they are still retrenching. Many of their budgets rely on leaving staff positions open, cutting back programs and dipping into reserves.
The North Wasco County School District budget committee approved its budget May 10 based on $8.1 billion in the State School Fund.
“It’s not a great number,” said Kathy Ursprung, North Wasco School Board vice chair, in an interview last week. “It still will be very difficult to balance our budget given all of the factors involved, such as PERS and health insurance escalation. It does make us have to retrench a little. … $8.4 billion would allow us to make strides, and we will keep hoping that will be the number.”
Committee members said there is still the possibility money could be added to the State School Fund.
“This is the best we can do as of this week, as of this day,” said Ways and Means Co-Chair Rep. Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene). “I am going to continue to work toward additional resources to add to this budget.”
Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) wants to see that.
“We can do better,” he said. “We have to do better.”
Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles) was among the legislators framing current education funding as a symptom of revenue problems. He suggested a sales tax, possibly dedicated to education.
“It’s not evil,” he said. “It’s not a monster. It works in other states.”
Senate Bill 5517 has not been scheduled for a vote, but one is expected as early as the end of this week. Portland Council PTA President Lisa Kensel wants advocates to remind legislators how important that vote will be.
“Our teachers, staff and the future of our kids depend on what they are doing with the budget,” she said.
Members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee on the way to vote on an $8.2 billion State School Fund bill had to travel a hall lined with education advocates chanting, “8.2 just won’t do.” (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)