Rep. Nancy Nathanson (standing) and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (right), the co-carriers of the Student Success Act, work Wednesday with Legislative Policy and Research Office analyst Lisa Gezelter to answer questions about the bill. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
The Oregon House passed a potentially transformative education investment Wednesday.
“We heard that schools need stable and adequate funding to meet the needs of their students,” Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, said to open the debate on the Student Success Act. “The bill before you is our policy response.”
The Student Success Act, House Bill 3427, is designed to invest an additional $1 billion a year in early learning and K-12 education.
“It is a chance to right the wrongs of decades of disinvestment and change the trajectory of our state,” said Smith Warner, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Student Success that created the bill.
The Student Success Act is headed to the Senate, where a vote is expected next week.
OSBA helped craft the language in the bill and strongly supports its passage. OSBA Executive Director Jim Green has called it a game-changer for districts, and he has encouraged school board members and other education advocates to urge their legislators to vote yes.
OSBA’s Oregonians for Student Success campaign offers information on the bill and how to contact legislators.
About half the money would be available as grants to districts for increasing instruction time, improving student safety and emotional health, lowering class sizes or creating a more well-rounded education for students.
Revenue from the bill’s new business tax would go to an education-dedicated fund. The bill includes a decrease in most personal income tax rates to offset possible price increases and $200 million to ensure current service levels in the State School Fund.
Earlier Wednesday, the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee passed a $9 billion State School Fund, based partly on money from the Student Success Act.
With a party-line vote, the Student Success Act received the three-fifths supermajority needed for tax measures. Legislators debated the bill’s merits for nearly four hours, voices often cracking with emotion.
Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, said he would save his tears for when the bill passed.
Hernandez, a Reynolds School Board member and a member of the Student Success Committee, shared his family’s struggles with Oregon’s public education system.
“I’ve experienced the short school years, the oversized classrooms, the cutting of extracurricular activities,” he said. “Our students deserve better.”
Hernandez praised the bill’s focus on supporting lower-income and minority students.
“We’re going to do a lot of good,” he said.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle spoke passionately in support of public schools and about the need for more education funding. Republicans, however, repeatedly challenged the bill’s tax mechanism, raising questions about fairness and competitiveness.
Rep. Nancy Nathanson, co-chair of the Student Success Committee’s revenue subcommittee and chair of the House Revenue Committee, addressed many of the business-related questions.
She highlighted the tax’s low rate and broad reach, including on Oregon sales from businesses outside the state. Nathanson, D-Eugene, said that even with the new tax Oregon would have among the lowest state business taxes.
The business- and union-backed Coalition for the Common Good supports the Student Success Act. The state’s leading business association, Oregon Business & Industry, said it would not oppose the bill.
Many of the bill’s supporters spoke of Oregon’s disinvestment in education since 1990’s Measure 5 limited property taxes and shifted the burden of school support to the state. Gov. Barbara Roberts was elected the same day Measure 5 passed, and she came to the Capitol to see the state finally deal with the measure’s fallout.
“It has taken away from our children and their future,” she said earlier in the day. “The bill on the floor is going to … turn back that almost 30 years of devastation to our schools.”
Rep. David Gomberg, D-Central Coast, said the bill wasn’t perfect but it represented a compromise that would benefit the state. He said he was concerned about the cost to his district’s industries but the state needs a better-educated workforce for the economy to thrive.
“The cost of doing nothing is far too high,” Gomberg said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA