Oregon education funding lags other states, Quality Education Model reports
Quality Education Commission member John Rexford told school board members about the Quality Education Model at OSBA’s July conference in a session on chronic underfunding of K-12 public education in Oregon. (Photo by Rachel Fleenor, OSBA)
Oregon is falling behind the rest of the country in school spending, according to the 2018 Quality Education Model.
The Quality Education Commission creates an in-depth report every two years on the best practices and the funding necessary to reach Oregon’s education goals. The commission’s report recommends Oregon needs to spend $10.7 billion in the next biennium to fund a high-quality K-12 system, a $2.5 billion increase from the current State School Fund.
Oregon’s per-student spending for K-12 has fallen from 15th nationally in 1990-91 to 29th in 2014-15, according to the latest report released Wednesday. If the Legislature were to fully fund the Quality Education Model, Oregon would rank 18th among states in per-student spending, the report said.
Oregon had the fifth-lowest spending growth per student since 1991, according to the report. In the 1990s, Oregon passed property tax measures that the commission identified as one of the factors limiting school funding. The commission estimated Oregon’s inflation-adjusted funding per weighted student to be about 8 percent lower than 1990-91.
Education funding in Oregon is about 9 percent below the national average, the report said.
The report pointed to the Legislature’s practice of using the current service level to determine the next biennium’s funding. Over time, that has stunted Oregon’s school spending and it doesn’t take into account the school system’s actual needs, according to the report.
“If the last biennium was not adequately funded, then the next biennium will also not be adequately funded,” said Beth Gerot, a commission member and former Eugene School Board member.
OSBA will rely heavily on the Quality Education Model as it presses for revenue reform in the 2019 legislative session, according to Executive Director Jim Green.
The commission’s report praised schools for becoming more efficient, improving graduation rates despite flat funding.
“Schools and districts have gotten better at using their resources,” said Brian Reeder at OSBA’s recent Summer Board Conference. Reeder is the Oregon Department of Education’s assistant superintendent of the office of research and data analysis and an adviser to the commission.
The commission wants the model to be about more than just a spending number, though, said John Rexford, a commission member and former superintendent of the High Desert Education Service District. The commission seeks to create an evidence-based information source easily accessed by the public and legislators.
He said the commission wants its report to show the actual effects on student achievement and graduation rates of the popular programs the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success is hearing about as it tours the state. The commission has also tried to make its work more accessible, creating a key points paper.
The report offers broad recommendations on building coherent school systems, teacher preparation, school leadership and community partnerships. The report also makes specific suggestions based on research.
Elementary schools should reduce class sizes in the early grades and in schools with more students with higher needs, the report said, and middle school investments improve graduation rates more than similar high school investments. High schools need more focus on ninth-grade on-track programs and should have more counselors to help with academic and personal needs, the report said.
The report also emphasized equity, early learning, student engagement and educator development.
Rexford said it is clear that containing cost drivers, especially the Public Employees Retirement System and health care, is essential to addressing school funding.
“Any relief in those areas would allow us to direct more resources to supporting children and their education,” he said.
Other states are struggling with just how much should be spent on schools.
In Washington, two families sued the state in 2007, saying school funding was inadequate. In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the state had violated its constitution by underfunding schools, and it began fining the state in 2015 to force compliance. The state raised property taxes, and education now represents more than 50 percent of the state budget. The court ruled in June that funding was sufficient and ended its oversight.
In Kansas, a school finance case that began in 2010 is still before the courts. This year the Legislature added $522 million to the education budget over the next five years, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in June that the Legislature still hadn’t met the state constitution’s adequacy requirement.
An Oregon constitutional amendment requires the Legislature to fund a quality education system or file a report saying why not. Legislative and legal efforts to force the Legislature to fund to the Quality Education Model, including those by OSBA, have been unsuccessful. Actual school funding has ranged between 62 percent and 78 percent of the model’s recommendation.
“We just need to do better for kids in this state,” Rexford said. “To continue funding at about three-quarters of what we really need to support students is to just continue to shortchange our future.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA