Wild year adds new concerns for next State School Fund debate
Thursday, December 3, 2020
It has been quite a ride this year of COVID-19, with lockdowns, freezes and wildfires. We’ve seen budget rebalances, historic unemployment, and economic downturns and upswings. We’ve learned how to talk with state officials via Zoom or Teams or relying on regular phone calls.
This week Gov. Kate Brown released her biennial budget that is due Dec 1. As you look at the numbers, keep in mind that despite Oregon’s many challenges, the state must still have a balanced budget, unlike the federal government.
Brown offered a $9.1 billion State School Fund, a starting point for us in K-12 education to begin advocating for educational investments. It’s a little more than the last biennium but would leave quite a gap from the at least $9.5 billion that school business officials calculate districts will need to maintain current service levels.
I know we are in uncertain and challenging economic times, but our students need COVID relief. They need extra support after nearly a year of learning loss. The best way to help students is to get them back into the classrooms where they can reconnect and engage with educators and peers.
That won’t be easy or cheap, given this pandemic holds significant challenges for the safety of our students, staff and volunteers.
Extensive work by the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon OSHA has provided comprehensive guidance and rules for schools to help keep students, staff and volunteers as safe as possible. We want to give parents the choice to bring their kids back into the school.
COVID-19 liability protection will be key to offering that choice. School districts can no longer get communicable disease coverage because insurance carriers have stopped offering it. This leaves schools vulnerable to wildly expensive coronavirus-related lawsuits. Schools need a limited liability protection from the Legislature to protect them as they follow the state’s many guidelines.
Please call your legislators and ask them to take up limited liability protections in any upcoming special session.
For additional information on how you can help, check out OSBA’s advocacy resources or reach out to me.