One-day special session protects State School Fund
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
The State School Fund is safe at $9 billion, with other investments in education protected as well.
The Legislature wrapped up a sometimes heated one-day second special session after 11 p.m. Monday. The state needed to make up a $1.1 billion hole in General Fund and lottery revenue, according to the Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairs’ budget document, but much of the discussion was around side issues.
Senate Bill 5723, the omnibus budget bill, cut something from nearly every state agency, while holding the State School Fund whole. It also protected the full High School Success Fund, known as Measure 98, and early learning and statewide initiatives in the Student Success Act.
The estimate of the corporate activity tax revenues supporting the act has fallen $410 million. SB 5723 reduced the act’s Student Investment Account grants from $472 million to $150 million for this biennium.
A companion bill, House Bill 4303, tapped $400 million from the Education Stability Fund to replace lost revenues and keep the State School Fund whole.
Some legislators questioned whether using half the reserve fund was wise when the state is projected to have even larger shortfalls in the next two biennia.
Gov. Kate Brown waited to call this second special session to see whether more federal emergency aid was coming. Congress, however, is stuck, with little sign of movement.
“Without direct support from Congress to fill the gap caused by COVID-19, our budget reserves will quickly run dry and we will have to make impossible choices next year when it comes time to pass a budget for the next biennium,” Brown said in a news release heralding the end of the special session.
Another special session is possible. The Legislature will receive an economic report on Sept. 23 that might require more budget balancing.
School leaders and OSBA are still urging legislators to pass COVID-19 liability protection. Schools cannot get insurance coverage to protect against lawsuits related to the coronavirus, and school leaders say they need the liability protection to reopen without risking financial ruin.
School leaders are also looking for some statutory changes or waivers to state requirements such as assessments, physical education hours and instructional time.
For school leaders, though, holding the State School Fund whole offers some financial stability to deal with the still evolving coronavirus pandemic costs.
“Access to education is key to long-term outcomes, and an educated population supports economic recovery,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, a former Lake Oswego School Board member, in a news release.
The session was called primarily to balance the budget, but the Legislature passed bills on topics including police use of force and unemployment benefits.
Tempers flared as legislators questioned the moral priorities of budget decisions and decried the lack of public testimony.
Education issues, though, received little discussion on the floor, with most legislators favoring protecting the State School Fund.
“We are putting our kids first,” said Sen. Lew Frederick, right before the Legislature passed HB 4303.