The 14-page document lays out the broad choices the committee co-chairs — Sens. Betsy Johnson and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward and Rep. Dan Rayfield — have made for the approximate $28 billion in discretionary funds Oregon has to allocate for the upcoming biennium.
The budget framework calls for a $9.1 billion State School Fund. The most important number for school districts is clearly inadequate, according to the Oregon Association of School Business Officials. OASBO estimates $9.6 billion is a true “hold harmless” level of funding that would allow school districts to continue current staffing and programs. That $500 million difference represents likely cuts.
“It’s important to protect services that Oregonians depend on, and to make investments to overcome disparities caused by systemic racism,” wrote Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton.
In reality, school leaders say, it’s not enough. For 2019-21, the State School Fund was $9 billion. A total increase of slightly more than $100 million represents an increase of just more than 1%. For most, if not all, school districts and education service districts that level of funding would not keep up with inflation and could be devastating. In a time of unprecedented federal funding assistance, it is not clear why legislators would advance a budget projection that could wipe out fully half of the projected $1 billon a year of additional investment from the Student Success Act of 2019.
OSBA is working with stakeholders to coordinate a statewide response. Outreach to school districts has begun. District leaders have responded with grim totals of potential staff cuts and days lost. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented learning loss, and students need extra support, not cuts to funding.
Procedurally, this is a step in the budget process. The actual State School Fund allocation bill, Senate Bill 5514, is undergoing hearings and can still be revised.
Now is the time for education advocates to turn up the heat for adequate funding. This document signals a potential shift in Oregon’s spending priorities, and it is important to let legislators know the work is not done restoring and lifting up schools to offer a world-class education to Oregon students.