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Student Success Committee report focuses on need for stable and adequate funding
Joint Student Success Committee Co-Vice Chair Rep. Greg Smith met with students such as Derek McBride of Hermiston High School to explore what students need from their schools to be successful. (Phot by Jake Arnold, OSBA, April 2018)
The long-awaited Joint Committee on Student Success report repeatedly calls attention to the need for stable and adequate funding with some sort of accountability.
The committee, in its report released Thursday, declares that “Oregon must do more to ensure that the 580,000 children enrolled in our schools are receiving a first-class education.”
The report refines earlier broad-reaching policy recommendations, but it lacks a funding mechanism. Committee Co-Chair Rep. Barbara Smith Warner said committee members will be looking at several corporate tax measures.
After a year of hearings and school tours around the state, the committee found Oregon’s erratic and inadequate education funding system at the heart of much of Oregon’s problems.
Education, business and political leaders have been closely watching the committee’s work, as momentum has built for revenue reform and increased education funding proposals in the 2019 Legislature.
“We are supportive of everything in the report,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green, “but the important work of the committee will be figuring out how we fund it.”
Green said he applauds the committee’s embrace of flexibility because the needs of districts vary across the state. District leaders know what their communities need most and they just need the support to implement the most effective programs for local students, he said.
“We want to give the districts the opportunity to be responsive,” said Smith Warner, D-Portland. She wants an “ongoing feedback loop” where accountability mechanisms are determined through back and forth communication among the state, schools and communities.
Committee members have pointed to the fact that although the state provides two-thirds of schools’ funding, it is the 197 locally elected school boards that make the budget decisions. Some legislators would like more input on how the money is spent.
Smith Warner said she envisions some sort of targeted funding alongside, but not a substitute for, the State School Fund. Districts could pick from a list of program options, much like with Measure 98, which offers grants for career and technical education, dropout prevention and college readiness.
The school tours impressed on committee members the need particularly to address students’ increasing need for social and emotional support. Smith Warner said school funding must acknowledge that with schools often being the center of community services, educating children sometimes is almost the last thing a school does.
“A kid in crisis cannot learn,” she said. Smith Warner said addressing students’ individual needs would be a big part of the committee’s focus on closing opportunity and achievement gaps.
The committee’s report will shape the 2019 conversation, with much of the legislative work expected to flow through the joint committee. Student Success Committee members also serve on the education and revenue committees in both chambers and the powerful Joint Ways and Means Committee, which decides state spending.
The 16-member committee has organized three subgroups: Accountability and Transparency, Early Childhood Education, and Revenue. Smith Warner said the Revenue subgroup would be looking at corporate tax measures proposals to “assure schools have the sufficient and stable funding they need to maximize student success.”
The Democrats’ supermajority in both legislative chambers would allow them to raise taxes without Republican votes, but the political reality is that any tax measure would likely need some bipartisan appeal to get by fiscally conservative Democrats and a possible voter referendum.
Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said Republicans want to look at the expense side and efficiencies in addition to new funding, with a goal of more dollars in classrooms.
“If you’re going to invest in your children, it’s going to cost money,” said Smith, co-vice chair of the committee.
The report discusses the policy recommendations from its earlier work groups’ November proposals. The Legislative Fiscal Office priced implementing all the recommendations at more than $3.5 billion, with the caveat that the total could vary hundreds of millions of dollars in either direction.
The report says the committee will now prioritize the state’s options and develop proposals that tie outcomes to targeted funding.
The report identified seven committee takeaways:
- Schools need stable and adequate funding.
- A one-size-fits-all policy won’t work.
- More Oregonians need access to high-quality early learning programs.
- Students need more mental and physical health supports in schools to be able to learn.
- Students need more access to career learning programs.
- Opportunity gaps persist for students of color, linguistically diverse students, low-income students, students with disabilities and rural students.
- Oregon faces a shortage of teachers.
When the legislative leadership created the committee in January 2018, the group was given five focus areas. The committee’s report provided recommendations and observations for each of its directives:
Early learning: Increase family support for early-childhood services, including creating a birth-to-5 system of support, and expand public preschool programs and early learning workforce.
Instructional time: Add days to the school year while clearly defining a day and still allowing districts to have four-day weeks; support summer learning programs, initially for students below grade level; and provide for teacher preparation, planning and enrichment time.
High school graduation: Provide schools with early-warning systems for students veering off track, add high school transition programs, fully fund Measure 98, and create a statewide re-engagement program for students who drop out.
Accountable, transparent system focused on student success: Connect reports, standards and funding to outcomes; increase the health and counseling services available to students paid for by funds outside the State School Fund; develop programs to attract and retain qualified teachers; increase funding for facilities-related grants to even out disparities in school environments; fund to suggested class-size levels in the 2018 Quality Education Model; increase the number of specialists in schools; create a statewide safety network focused on suicide prevention; and increase the equity and resources of Talented and Gifted programs.
Stable, sufficient, accountable resources: Create a dedicated revenue stream for education with increased funding tied to outcomes; add accountability measures that include communication among districts, communities and the state; and implement cost controls to keep dollars in the classrooms.
The report said the need for stable and adequate funding was the most-discussed issue in its meetings and hearings around the state.
The report links much of Oregon’s school funding problems to the 1990s property tax-limiting measures that shifted the funding burden to the state. Oregon’s income-tax reliant system left Oregon’s schools chronically underfunded and wondering when the next shift in the economy would pull the rug out from under new programs and positions, according to the report.
The committee’s first meeting of the 2019 session is at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Capitol. The subcommittees will meet Tuesday evenings, and the full committee will meet Thursday evenings.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA