Legislators kick around bucket ideas for new education funding
Friday, March 15, 2019
Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, confers with Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, during Thursday night’s Joint Committee on Student Success hearing. Helt drew on her school board experience to discuss the district-level repercussions of the committee’s funding decisions. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
The Joint Committee on Student Success has begun putting some meat on the bones of its education ideas.
Legislators discussed Thursday night how they might divide up new education funds and the categories where districts might be able to spend their money.
The Student Success Committee is aiming to create a dedicated education funding source outside the State School Fund, likely through some sort of business tax, according to committee Co-chair Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland. The committee has discussed a baseline goal of adding $1 billion a year, but some members are pressing for more and the revenue subcommittee is still working out how much it can raise.
The co-chairs proposed splitting new investment money among three destinations: a School Improvement Fund, statewide initiatives and early learning. The full committee will work on exactly what it wants to do in each category.
The co-chairs offered four “buckets” for School Improvement Fund noncompetitive grants:
More learning time, which would include programs to address absenteeism, to reduce testing time and to add student supports.
Smaller class sizes, as well as adding classroom aids and support staff.
Student health and safety, which would range from facilities to social and emotional support.
Well-rounded education, which would cover initiatives from adding electives such as art and music to creating career and technical education and college navigations programs.
Schools would have to present plans and would be monitored according to metrics such as graduation rate, ninth-grade on track, third-grade reading proficiency or attendance. The committee discussed measuring districts by growth, rather than by hitting target numbers, and supporting low-performing and high-poverty districts that need extra help.
Statewide initiatives covered areas such as class sizes in core subjects, school-year length, data systems and the makeup and training of the teaching force.
The statewide initiative ideas in some places overlap with School Improvement Fund goals. Co-chair Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said that in broad terms, money allocated to statewide initiatives would be the Legislature making choices about school programs while money allocated to the School Improvement Fund would allow districts to make more local choices.
The early-learning subcommittee has presented detailed recommendations for $300 million in early learning spending, but that investment would still depend on the committee’s revenue mechanism proposal and how it decides to divvy up the new money.
The Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairs’ budget framework proposed $8.87 billion for the 2019-21 State School Fund, $260 million less than the Oregon Association of School Business Officials estimated is needed for most districts to maintain current service levels. The co-chairs indicated that the Student Success Committee would have to find the money itself if it wanted to spend more on education.
Student Success Committee members discussed the need for the State School Fund to meet current service levels for additional funding to be effective, but their primary focus remains adding new, dedicated money, not bolstering the State School Fund.
Thursday night’s discussion also touched on cost containment to increase school resources. Roblan said that legislative leadership had assured him that Public Employees Retirement System and health insurance costs would be addressed in other committees.