State School Fund discussion heats up, with opportunities for public to weigh in
Although the latest Oregon economic report showed better-than-predicted state revenue growth, education officials are worried legislators are preparing to propose a state K-12 public schools budget that will lead to education cuts.
Education advocates will have opportunities in the coming month to press legislators for improved school funding, both through legislative hearings and OSBA’s Oregonians for Student Success campaign.
The Ways and Means Committee co-chairs’ budget framework, the baseline for State School Fund negotiations, is expected in the coming week. Education advocates are hearing that the Legislature’s initial proposal could fall short of districts’ current service level needs.
Representatives from eight education support groups, including OSBA, sent the legislative leadership a letter last week asking them to take advantage of the economic growth to deliver on what Oregonians say they want for their students. An inadequate State School Fund proposal would shift the conversation from how to improve Oregon’s education system to how to protect the status quo, according to the letter.
The Legislative Fiscal Office estimated schools need $8.77 billion for current service levels in 2019-21.
“A State School Fund budget of $8.77 billion will ensure that many school districts across Oregon will begin sending out layoff notices in March (as required by law), and local Budget Committees will begin the painful process of planning cuts to staffing, programs and school days,” the letter said.
The Oregon Association of School Business Officials said the LFO estimate is too low, calculating that schools need $9.13 billion for 2019-21 to maintain current service levels.
The LFO based its starting-point calculation on a 50-50 split of the fund last biennium. In reality, districts split their funds roughly 49-51 to account for yearly cost increases, creating a higher actual starting point for the next biennium’s calculations. The LFO also used different methods for estimating salary and benefit cost growth that came out lower than OASBO’s calculations based on current collective bargaining agreements.
The Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee will be taking its only scheduled public testimony on the State School Fund and other K-12 programs at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the Capitol.
The Joint Ways and Means Committee will be traveling the state to take public testimony on the state budget, with the first hearing Saturday in Coos Bay. The complete list of times and locations is on the website of Oregonians for Student Success, an OSBA advocacy campaign for stable and adequate school funding. The campaign’s event calendar also contains lobby days and town halls where people can talk to legislators face to face.
Oregon economists expect General Fund revenue to exceed 2017 forecasts by $1.1 billion, but most of that will be sent to taxpayers in a kicker refund. The state predicts a $748.5 million personal kicker refund and a $352.8 million corporate kicker that is dedicated to K-12 education. Legislators are considering redirecting the personal kicker to schools or the Public Employees Retirement System debts.
Gov. Kate Brown’s November budget proposal based on current revenue called for an $8.97 billion State School Fund with an additional $100 million for PERS side accounts to offset school districts’ rates and $170 million to partially fund the High School Success Fund (Measure 98). Brown proposed an additional $1.3 billion for early learning and K-12 if the state raised more revenue.
The Joint Committee on Student Success, after touring the state’s schools, identified a wide variety of additional investments schools need to increase student success. A current services level budget would not provide the resources necessary for schools to add the programs and staff the committee said schools should have.
Oregon’s leading education advocacy groups, including OSBA, are calling for full Measure 98 funding of $303 million and an additional $1 billion School Improvement Fund to give districts resources to make local decisions to improve student achievement.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA