Legislature allots $9.3 billion for State School Fund
The Legislature put its stamp Thursday on a $9.3 billion State School Fund for 2021-23, but some unexpected drama has raised hopes that legislators will increase education spending.
Education advocates remain adamant that $9.3 billion shouldn’t be the last word.
“I believe OASBO, COSA and OSBA have made a clear and compelling case that $9.6 billion is needed to maintain programs for K-12 students in Oregon,” said Quality Education Commission Chair John Rexford. “Any less potentially erodes the tremendous progress that has been made in increasing student success and closing the gaps for underserved communities.”
The Quality Education Commission reports to the Legislature what Oregon needs to meet its public school goals. A fully implemented Quality Education Model would require a $10 billion State School Fund, according to the commission’s 2020 report.
The Oregon Association of School Business Officials working with the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators has calculated districts need at least $9.6 billion for most districts to avoid budget cuts. Legislators have listened.
Earlier this week, Rep. Teresa Alonso León, D-Woodburn, submitted a bi-partisan letter to the co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee urging them to add $300 million to the State School Fund.
“We believe the resources exist to strengthen all education investments,” the letter says.
The House brought Senate Bill 5514, the school funding bill, up for a vote Thursday. It passed, but not before Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, moved that the bill be referred to Ways and Means “in order for us to fully fund education at $9.6 billion.”
“Senate Bill 5514A is a good budget,” Smith said. “If there is ever a time when our children need a great budget, it’s now.”
The motion received spirited bi-partisan support but failed 22-34.
The Legislature still must work out how it will pay for the school fund. SB 5514 includes $200 million from the Education Stability Fund, but the bill authorizing the transfer is still in committee.
As the Legislature sorts out the funding, advocates are continuing to work for additional education money through end-of-session bills. A booming economic forecast in May gave the state’s budget writers roughly $1.1 billion more revenue to work with than when they wrote the bill.
A group of education advocates that includes OSBA will send a letter to legislative leadership asking for more money while recognizing the Legislature’s education investments in facilities and summer learning and with the Student Success Act and Measure 98.
“No group of legislators has done more in the past 30 years to reverse decades of disinvestment in our schools,” a draft said. “These investments collectively mark an important turning point — one that will ensure Oregon recovers from three decades of underfunding.”
The Student Success Act and Measure 98 give targeted funding to improve education results, especially for historically underserved students. School district leaders argue that they need a higher State School Fund to support schools’ core functions so they won’t have to cannibalize new programs aimed at supporting equity and students on the edges.
“Despite your investments, and even with unprecedented federal funds, our school budgets will not be whole,” the letter says. “In fact, we are creating the conditions for a K-12 funding ‘cliff’ at a time when Oregon has record revenues and record reserves.”
If schools must fill their budget gaps with one-time funds now, they will be in even worse shape next budget cycle as inflation widens the distance between what schools say they need and the Legislature’s starting point for budget discussions.
School districts are finalizing their budgets now for 2021-23, and many districts report that $9.3 billion would leave them short.
The Tigard-Tualatin School district would be $8 million short, the equivalent of 73 teachers or 13 school days, according to Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith.
“While I thank the Legislature for recognizing the financial demands of K-12 schools, $9.3 billion will not close the gap for all districts,” said Tigard-Tualatin School Board Chair Maureen Wolf, the OSBA Board president.
Legislators have pointed to the more than $1.5 billion in federal aid flowing to schools, but Wolf said that money was specifically targeted to responding to a global pandemic.
“These are one-time dollars that were not intended to sustain the critical work of school districts beyond the next biennium,” she said.
Legislative analysts calculated districts needed only $9 billion to maintain current services. That estimate relies heavily on reductions in Public Employees Retirement System rates in the coming biennium. Those rates could be jumping up again soon if the PERS Board accepts a recommendation to change its rate formula.
“Districts will see temporary relief from PERS obligations, but that too is unsustainable,” Wolf said.
OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel is encouraging legislators to keep the long view in sight, especially considering the state’s current strong financial standing.
“One-time funds don’t roll up, and then we get in a bigger hole,” she said. “If we don’t have a starting point of at least $9.6 billion in our next budget cycle, then we start getting way behind.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA