Education advocates share real-world consequences of legislators’ school funding decisions
Thursday, March 7, 2019
OSBA Past President LeeAnn Larsen, left, and Jessica Jose-Nickerson, a Century High junior and advisory member of the Hillsboro School Board, visit before testifying Thursday.
(Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
School advocates packed a hearing room Thursday to tell legislators to adequately fund Oregon’s K-12 programs.
The Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee held its only scheduled public testimony on the bill that will set the State School Fund, House Bill 5016. School board members, parents, students and education professionals offered impassioned testimony about schools’ life-changing programs and the need to fund them.
OSBA Board Past President LeeAnn Larsen, a Beaverton School Board member, said it was long past time that legislators who say they value education actually deliver stable and adequate funding. Doing so, she said, is necessary to keep class sizes manageable and provide an education that engages students and prepares them for the future.
“I hope you will have the courage and foresight to make the necessary decisions to invest in our students,” she said.
The Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairs’ budget framework, which will set the starting point for State School Fund discussions, is expected as soon as today. Education advocates have been told that it will offer less than schools need just to maintain current services and avoid staff and program cuts at many districts.
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Student Success named chronic underfunding as a leading contributor to Oregon’s poor educational results, including one of the nation’s worst graduation rates and shortest school years. The committee identified areas where schools need additional investments to support student success, including early learning, social and emotional health, and instructional time.
Century High junior Jessica Jose-Nickerson, an advisory member of the Hillsboro School Board, testified Thursday that Oregon students can see how they are being short-changed compared with students from other states.
“Every one of the more than 581,000 students in Oregon’s public schools, including myself, has seen future prospects of success diminishing as a result of years and years of schools being underfunded,” she said.
OSBA is pressing the 2019 Legislature through advocacy and the Oregonians for Student Success campaign to fully fund schools so they can create programs proven to improve student outcomes.
For 2017-19, the Legislature allotted $8.2 billion to the State School Fund. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials has calculated that districts would need at least $9.13 billion for 2019-21 to maintain their programs and account for increases in health insurance, Public Employees Retirement System costs and employee pay and benefits.
Gov. Kate Brown’s 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).
Oregon’s leading education advocacy groups, including OSBA, are seeking Brown’s budget plus 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.
Education advocates, legislators and business groups generally agree revenue reform is necessary for school investment, but don’t necessarily agree on the means. The Joint Committee on Student Success is looking at several business tax options to increase education spending.
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 where education supporters can talk to legislators face to face.