If Oregon wants better schools, it must continue to fund the improvements
Monday, February 8, 2021
I need to emphasize the “current service level,” the baseline for the State School Fund process.
The CSL is defined as the money needed to provide the same level of student services and education in the next biennium. The CSL number is derived from complex assumptions about inflation in health care costs, pension costs, staff costs and student populations. Rarely does the school district number agree with the number from the Legislative Fiscal Office, the nonpartisan office that provides analysis for the state budget.
The State School Fund for 2019-20 was $9 billion. The LFO has calculated the CSL for 2021-23 as $9 billion. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials places it higher at $9.6 billion, a difference that could hit many districts hard if it is not closed.
“Without these funds, many districts face devastating reductions,” said OASBO Executive Director Angie Peterman. “The lack of this funding could mean the loss of nearly 3,000 teaching positions in the next biennium.”
School advocates continually must highlight the differences between the Legislature’s formula estimates and the actual numbers from Oregon school districts. It can be a frustrating exercise.
The CSL is the starting point for the Legislature’s education budget. Now is the time to act if we are to get a reasonable operational budget to work with over the next biennium. We have students with many needs that have not been adequately addressed for nearly a year. As schools work to reopen, welcoming more students back, there are many steps and challenges to overcome. Without a proper equity-embedded budget, schools once again will face budget cuts.
"Unfortunately for our students, as a state we have built an education funding structure that is more susceptible to economic shifts,” said Beaverton School Board Chair Becky Tymchuk
Oregon’s limits on property taxes and lack of a sales tax make the state reliant on income taxes, which shift wildly with the economic cycle. With COVID-19, the state has greater need for money for services even as many people have lost the jobs that support the state.
Tymchuk said the Beaverton School District has not fully recovered from the Great Recession of 2008 and a $9 billion State School Fund would further erode core services.
In December, the federal government approved a second round of CARES Act money for broad COVID-19-related issues, including addressing learning loss, reopening schools, testing, and repairing and upgrading projects to improve air quality in school buildings. This money has its intended coronavirus-related uses and should not be misconstrued as backfilling the State School Fund.
In 2019, we passed the Student Success Act. This momentous bill was the first great step to reverse decades of underfunding, and it specifically focused on traditionally underserved populations. Schools need to be able to do that important work, as those students have even greater needs with social and emotional challenges during this pandemic. That work awaits the return of students to the classrooms. This is the opportunity to meet the students where they are and help them get back on the path and move forward.
The State School Fund also contains embedded equity pieces that flow into districts’ operations budgets. Without a true current service level, budget cuts are nearly inevitable at most districts. Budget cuts hobble the equity work and other supports schools need to continue moving forward.
Tymchuk said recent investments such as the Student Success Act and Measure 98 are targeted to specific programs in the Beaverton School District and can’t replace budget money. Federal stimulus funding is also one-time money intended to make up for added pandemic expenses. It is not there to support existing teachers and facilities.
“As a school board and budget committee member, it is hard to fathom not having adequate funding for these core services in a year where our students' need will be far greater than the current service level," Tymchuk said.