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Legislature approves funding at $8.2 billion for K-12 schools
When introducing Senate Bill 5517 to the House floor on Tuesday, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) expressed hope that the Legislature would work to correct funding problems for schools. “The reality is that for more than 20 years we’ve been patching together one inadequate K-12 budget after another,” she said. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Districts finally have the official budget number they had been awaiting: $8.2 billion. Senate Bill 5517 passed the House 31-28 on Tuesday, setting the State School Fund for the 2017-19 biennium.
Schools begin the budgeting process in February and March and must adopt their budget by today, June 30. When they started, the state was facing a budget shortfall of $1.4 billion. Gov. Kate Brown had proposed $8 billion for K-12 public education, and the Legislature had offered $7.8 billion.
Oregon school business officials calculated $8.4 billion was needed for schools to continue with the same programs and services as last year. Districts began planning for major cuts, including reducing staff, programs and school days.
Funding at $8.2 billion will allow districts to add back some of the cuts planned in their budgets but is still short of what many need to keep current services and staff.
Democrats described the bill as the best they could do with present tax revenue.
“What we are looking at today is a status quo budget,” said Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) on the House floor. “We’re not making deep cuts, but we’re also not making new strategic investments in our K-12 schools because of our broken and inadequate budget system.”
Republicans who opposed the bill said it wasn’t enough for schools, and they blamed out-of-control spending, particularly on public employee health care and the Public Employees Retirement System.
“The broken and inadequate revenue system … is something we cannot fix without securing the trust of the voters and taxpayers,” said Rep. Rich Vial (R-Scholls). “They do not trust us that if we simply raise more revenue it is only going to go to education.”
Most efforts at cost containment have stalled this session, and last week Democratic leaders said there would be no revenue reform this session. Four Democrats opposed the bill as being too little, including Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-Portland).
“I will not vote for a budget that maintains our mediocrity, or as we call it ‘current service level,’” said Hernandez in testimony. He is a Reynolds School Board member and said the budget would lead to more cuts at his district.
Education advocates expressed disappointment.
“This budget, like this entire session, should be filed under missing – for missing leadership that led to missed opportunity,” said Jim Green, OSBA executive director. “Our elected leaders did not address runaway costs. They did not act to reform our revenue system.
“As a result of this leadership failure, our students will pay the price. And what those young people are missing is instructional time, school days and ultimately the opportunity for a better future. It’s very disheartening.”
Like a lot of districts, Gresham-Barlow made its budget plan based on an expectation of $8.1 billion in the State School Fund. It was faced with a $3.5 million shortfall and is using $2 million in reserves. The slightly higher budget will help reduce the cuts.
“We’re pretty lucky,” said Gresham-Barlow School Board Chair Carla Piluso. “It does look like cuts for us but not as drastic as other districts.”
Piluso, who is also a House member representing Gresham, would like to see a revenue package that allows the district to invest in improving education outcomes, not just find ways to stave off cuts.
Beaverton says that, with an $8.2 billion State School Fund, it will have to cut by $11.5 million, including staff, professional development, supplies and support for students in poverty, according to data gathered by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. North Clackamas’ plan for dealing with a $2.1 million cut in current operating costs at $8.2 billion includes staff cuts and a furlough day. Bethel plans to cut five school days, and Salem-Keizer will lose 63 licensed educators.
In addition to losing teachers and raising class sizes, some districts will cut other services, according to the COSA report. Newberg will eliminate a pregnant and parenting teens child care center. Junction City will cut technology and textbooks. Klamath County’s budget plan includes deferring $110,000 in maintenance.
OSBA will continue to work on cost containment and structural tax reform options that would create additional revenue to improve education funding.
- Lori Sattenspiel
Interim director of legislative services