The co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee shared their principles for balancing Oregon’s pandemic-stricken state budget. According to the plan, the Legislature would pull $400 million from the Education Stability Fund to help fill a $1.2 billion hole.
Gov. Kate Brown has also called for keeping the State School Fund whole.
The budget framework prioritizes holding the line on the State School Fund. It would fully fund the High School Success Fund, known as Measure 98, and early learning and some statewide initiatives in the Student Success Act. It would fund the Student Investment Account at about one-third.
“This is a really positive development that recognizes the needs of students and reflects the priority of K-12 funding in the state budget,” said Angie Peterman, Oregon Association of School Business Officials executive director.
The plan also would keep the Community College Support Fund stable.
School districts have been waiting anxiously on the revenue picture as they face the uncertain spending costs for a school year unlike any other.
Most districts have estimated they can maintain roughly current service levels if they receive their full State School Fund, their full High School Success Fund and most of their grants from the Student Success Act, according to school business officials.
“Our members are very pleased by the focus on protecting investments in the State School Fund, Measure 98, and the Student Success Act,” said Morgan Allen, Coalition of Oregon School Administrators deputy executive director. “This will allow educators to prioritize the needs of our historically underserved students and focus on preparing for the upcoming school year, rather than dealing with more budget uncertainty.”
Allen said a special session is expected in early August. Districts need to have a fall operational blueprint by Aug. 15, and knowing how much money they have to spend is key. School leaders will also be watching for legislative action on COVID-19 liability protection to allow schools to open without risking ruinous lawsuits.
The document from the co-chairs – Democratic Sens. Betsy Johnson and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward and Rep. Dan Rayfield – identified health care, child welfare, housing and economic development as other key areas to be protected in the budget balancing.
Michelle Morrison, Hillsboro School District chief financial officer, said a full State School Fund is essential to the district being able to provide some onsite learning, which is more expensive than distance learning.
“If we lose funding, we’re going to have to make some decisions, because we’re not going to open unsafely,” she said.