Legislators recommend closer look at school funding considerations
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
The Legislature on Monday went through its biennial tradition of approving its inadequate state school funding decision. But in a move not seen in a decade, the committee attached a letter recommending the Legislature look at how it funds education.
The Legislature is required by a 2001 state law to meet funding levels for K-12 public education laid out by the Quality Education Commission or report why not. It has never met the spending goals.
On Monday, the committee approved its usual final report saying insufficient income and rising costs prevented the state from adequate funding for the Quality Education Model. The report said the 2021-23 State School Fund should have been $9.86 million. The Legislature appropriated $9.3 billion.
But the committee also included a letter to House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney recommending a deeper examination of Oregon’s school funding model.
The letter said the Legislature should look at how it calculates the current service level and how the Quality Education Commission calculates total school funding.
OSBA and other education advocates have asked the Legislature for a current service level calculation that better reflects actual expenses. Every two years, the Legislature and education advocates haggle for months over what the current service level should be to determine the next biennium’s fund.
OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel said last week that advocates want to work with the Legislature to end the debate on the cost of maintaining current services so they can talk more about what students actually need.
For 2021-23, legislative analysis determined school districts needed a $9 billion State School Fund to maintain current service levels, slightly less than the previous biennium’s fund. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials calculated schools needed $9.6 billion.
OASBO uses actual expense reports from the 13 largest districts that include about half of Oregon’s students. The Legislature’s calculations use statute-mandated caps for some costs that aren’t reflective of actual changes.
OASBO and the Legislature can’t even agree on a starting point for calculating school funding on a yearly basis. The Legislative Fiscal Office uses a 50/50 split of the State School Fund during the biennium. OASBO uses the same 49/51 split that the Oregon Department of Education does when dividing the money to account for inflation. It sounds arcane, and it is, but business officials estimate that this small difference has a big impact: an estimated $211 million less for schools in this biennium.
Education advocates say those differences compound year after year to increase the gap between what schools say they need and what they receive.
In recent years, Oregon has increased education funding through the Student Success Act and the High School Success Fund (Measure 98), which has helped close the gap between state funding and its aspirations. The joint committee’s report asks for a review on how those funds should be included in future QEM considerations.
Education advocates cautioned legislators last week that those funds were intended to be additional funds to the State School Fund and should not be used to backfill the state’s responsibility.
The committee’s letter also asked to add early learning and higher education into the state’s sufficiency considerations.