Change in revenue legislation approach makes next budgeting steps unclear
Century High junior Jessica Jose-Nickerson, a Hillsboro School Board advisory member, gave legislators the students' view of school spending decisions and their effects on students' lives. (Photo by Sen. Arnie Roblan)
The legislative leaders in the Joint Ways and Means Committee delivered their budget framework for the 2019-21 biennium on Thursday, March 7.
The $23.2 billion total framework would allocate $8.87 billion to the State School Fund, fully $100 million less than the proposed funding level by Gov. Kate Brown and nearly $2 billion below the Quality Education Model recommendation of $10.7 billion.
Testimony earlier Thursday by education stakeholders and students was uniformly in favor of more funding.
“Every one of the more than 581,000 students in Oregon's public schools, including myself, has seen prospects of future success diminish as a result of years and years of schools being underfunded,” said Jessica Jose-Nickerson, a Century High junior and advisory member of the Hillsboro School Board.
She likened that group to a city approaching the size of Portland, saying, “This city of children and young adults needs your attention. We need your help.”
Jose-Nickerson was not alone. Highly personal testimony from school board members, administrators, teachers and many other education stakeholders was forcefully in favor of a larger allocation to fund K-12 education.
This low funding level is, in part, a result of the constitutional requirement that the Legislature produce a balanced budget, which Co-Chairs Sen. Betsy Johnson, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward and Rep. Dan Rayfield stressed during a news conference. The state’s revenue projections are insufficient to fund all state services to current levels, and decisions had to be made.
Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, acknowledged that this budget framework does not include any new revenue.
“We are constrained to the resources we have available,” she said.
However, she alluded to the work of the Joint Committee for Student Success and how new education investment could happen.
“Anything they want to pay for, they have to find the revenue for,” she said.
The next step for the budget committee is the annual series of hearings outside Salem, commonly called the Ways and Means roadshow. Dates and locations can be found on the OSBA website.
By announcing the K-12 budget of $8.87 billion, less than districts say they need for current programs, the co-chairs have put the responsibility for new investments squarely on the members of the Student Success Committee. This is unusual in that normally in the Legislature, the committees on revenue raise money and the Ways and Means Committee spends it. The addition of the Student Success committee, a third committee, changes the normal order of business.
And the ongoing turmoil in the Senate over President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, make abnormalities unwelcome. Courtney has faced withering criticism over his handling of multiple allegations of sexual assault and impropriety during his time as Senate president.
On Tuesday, March 5, Courtney, citing ongoing health concerns, announced a 10-day medical leave of absence. Shortly thereafter, the Legislature announced a $1.3 million agreement settling a complaint filed with the Bureau of Labor and Industries by eight women alleging sexual misconduct. Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who first made public allegations of sexual harassment by then-Sen. Jeff Kruse, will receive a small portion of that settlement for attorneys’ fees.
The timing of Courtney’s medical leave and the announcement of the settlement could be coincidence, or it could indicate a turbulent period in relations among Senate Democrats.
These challenges mean that school board members and education advocates should remain vigilant and continue to advocate for increased education investment. This is the year for an investment budget in education, and we cannot allow legislators in Salem to get distracted from their responsibilities to Oregon’s students.
The Oregonians for Student Success lobby days continue Tuesday, March 12, and Tuesday, March 19. Eastern and southern Oregon are highlighted those days, but school board members from all over Oregon are welcome. Please RSVP, because the important thing is that you come.
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist