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Legislators ready to hear public’s thoughts about State School Fund
After months of speculation, the State School Fund will make its public debut next week. There may be some boos.
“The saga continues,” said Lori Sattenspiel, OSBA Legislative Services director, “and anything less than $10.3 billion is just not enough.”
House Bill 5015, the K-12 public education funding bill, will have its first public hearing at 8 a.m. Monday, March 27, finally giving students, parents and educators a chance to formally weigh in.
HB 5015 currently offers $9.9 billion for the State School Fund, following Gov. Tina Kotek’s recommended budget. School leaders say districts need at least $10.3 billion to avoid cuts at most schools.
But the bill’s numbers are still just placeholder language while it moves through the legislative process. Legislative Highlights is offering a weekly look, “Funding Oregon’s Future,” to help explain the journey.
OSBA is working with other education advocates to plan testimony for the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee hearing, including reaching out to school board members.
It’s a little difficult to plan a response, though, when it’s still unclear how much will actually be offered. The Ways and Means Committee decides the final amount that will appear in HB 5015. Sometime in the next week or so and likely before March 27, Ways and Means Co-Chairs Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, and Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, are expected to release a budget framework.
The co-chairs’ budget will tell school leaders what they are really facing this year. Education advocates will be watching not only for how much is going into the State School Fund, but also checking for whether it will be stretched to pay for early learning initiatives or patched up with funds intended for Student Success Act programs.
OSBA Legislative Services Specialist Richard Donovan said the best way for school board members to be heard is to submit online testimony. OSBA Executive Director Jim Green is encouraging school board members to share their testimony with Donovan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sattenspiel (email@example.com) to help them coordinate.
Donovan said school board members should focus on what students in their districts need to be successful and the value of stable and adequate funding.
Local specifics bring the message home, he said. Billions of dollars are almost an abstract concept, but everyone can understand what it means when a lack of funding leads to laying off a beloved teacher and raising class sizes or ending a popular career and technical education program.
HB 5015 is a long way from the finish line. It can be amended in the subcommittee and the full committee during “work sessions” and must be passed by the House and Senate before being signed by the governor.
By next week, the education subcommittee will have spent the better part of three weeks learning about education funding’s intricacies during informational hearings on HB 5015 and the related Oregon Department of Education bill, HB 5014.
The subcommittee, packed with former educators and current school board members, has detoured into lively discussions about schools’ financial needs. The March 27 hearing could bring more enlightening positioning by legislators.
Sattenspiel said one thing is clear, though: “$9.9 billion is not enough.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Previous Funding Oregon's Future stories:
March 13: Legislators peer under the State School Fund hood
March 6: Good ideas cost money, too
Feb. 28: Revenue forecast puts State School Fund possibilities in focus
Feb. 21: Adequate State School Fund is force for local control
Feb. 13: ‘Total investment’ in Oregon schools doesn’t tell full story
Feb. 6: $9.9 billion State School Fund is better but students deserve more
Jan. 30: Bill aims for true accounting of school funding needs
Jan. 23: State School Fund is education policy made real