Blowback from the climate legislation fight is threatening the education of some of Oregon’s vulnerable rural students.
A special funding mechanism in the State School Fund attempts to level the playing field for students in some of Oregon’s most remote areas. Some schools receive extra money in recognition of the costly challenges of educating a small number of students in harder-to-reach areas.
This special mechanism is on the verge of expiring, and unless legislators act this session, these schools could lose millions of dollars in future allocations. Their ability to provide sufficient teachers, programs and transportation for a high-quality education would be severely hampered.
House Bill 4044 would remove the funding expiration dates.
The total value of this extra funding is about $2.5 million a year for roughly 100 of the smallest school districts in Oregon, according to legislative budget staff. The bill would also protect funding for five schools that have foreign-exchange-student dormitories to help their schools remain viable. Students, school staff and community members told OSBA News that the diversity of experience and culture exchange those students bring is vital to everyone in those communities.
These supports are set to expire June 30.
OSBA, along with the Oregon Small Schools Association and other education stakeholders, have introduced legislation to make the distributions permanent. There is no known opposition to this bill. It passed out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee on Friday, Feb. 21, and now heads to the House for a vote.
The slowdown this session puts this bill in jeopardy, though. With the short session deadlines and a possible walkout halting all work, this education bill, and many other necessary measures, could be left stranded in the ever-growing list of bills waiting for a vote. If that happens, small and remote schools in Oregon would be placed on a path to dramatically reduced funding. And dormitory schools, without the authorizing legislation to operate, could cease to exist entirely.
House Bill 4044 is a crucial bill for public education. These schools exist in communities across Oregon, from the north coast to the far eastern portions of the “Oregon Outback.” School districts represented by Democratic and Republican legislators in both chambers rely on these allocations for survival.