The Legislature is entering crunch time for deciding the state budget, making it crucial for education advocates to make their State School Fund needs clear.
The quarterly Oregon Economic and Revenue Forecast to be released May 19 is the most important document in school funding. The final forecast of this session tells legislators just how much money they have for the next biennium. When the intense jockeying begins after the report, it will be more difficult to get legislators’ attention.
The budget framework from the co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee proposes a $9.1 billion State School Fund, saying schools will be “held harmless from cuts.”
Information directly from school districts paints a different picture.
OSBA has been working with the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators to gather district-specific information about how a $9.1 billion State School Fund would play out.
The Oregon Association of School Business Officials’ analysis concluded districts require a $9.6 billion State School Fund for most schools to maintain their current services next year.
Districts are reporting chilling numbers at $9.1 billion:
The Coos Bay School District would face a $2.75 million shortfall, which translates into a cut of 25 teaching positions or 17 school days.
The David Douglas School District in the Portland area would face a $4.2 million shortfall, the equivalent of 43 teaching positions or 11 instructional days.
The Roseburg School District in southern Oregon would face a $1.5 million shortfall, the equivalent of 18 teaching positions or eight days of school.
The Pendleton School District in eastern Oregon would be underfunded by $1.3 million, the equivalent of 13 teaching positions or 13 days of school.
Legislators have been told by the Legislative Fiscal Office that schools need an $8.997 billion State School Fund to meet current service levels for 2021-23, which is actually less than schools received this biennium. The analysis is the result of formula assumptions, and it doesn’t reflect actual reported costs.
"There's no way that's going to maintain our services going forward," said Angie Peterman, OASBO executive director. "The state (current service level) does not capture all of the expenses and costs associated with continuing services school districts are offering."
Legislators need to hear from schools in their districts that their proposed $9.1 billion would be a cut, not an increase on current service level.
School leaders are taking the problem directly to legislators through one-on-one meetings and presentations. They are also explaining the predicament to the public through legislative hearings, when allowed to testify, and letters to newspapers and editorial boards.
Some legislators are getting the message.
"As a school board member, I understand the difficult choices that come with budget cuts,” said Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, a Reynolds School Board member. “As such, I am in full support of the $9.6 billion investment to the Oregon State School Fund.”
Ruiz said that with the light visible at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Oregon should be looking to support education.
“Our children deserve the best possible education, and that starts with investing in our future,” he said.