Senators pass education funding bill while saying they want to add to it later
Thursday, June 8, 2017
The bill to fund K-12 education passed the Oregon Senate on Thursday, but it faces a potentially tougher debate in the House.
Senate Bill 5517 would appropriate $8.2 billion for the State School Fund, $200 million less than what school business officials say is needed to maintain current services.
Senators stressed Thursday that they hope this funding bill will be the “floor” for the State School Fund.
“It is not as much as we would like, and I am hoping that sometime during this session we will be able to find a little bit more to increase that budget,” said Sen. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro), who voted for the bill.
Opponents and supporters agreed that $8.2 billion was not enough.
“I made a commitment to my school districts that I would not support anything less than $8.4 billion,” said Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “Having visited many schools in both of my districts and seeing the teachers struggle to keep up, I am unable to support this legislation today.”
The Legislature continues to consider cost containment and revenue reform measures that could potentially add to school funding.
The bill passed 25-5. It is scheduled for its first reading June 9 and could be put up for a vote as soon as late next week.
In joint subcommittee and committee hearings, the bill had been unanimously supported by senators while facing some opposition from representatives.
Hernandez, who is a member of the Reynolds School Board, remains opposed.
“I plan on voting no on the House floor and lobbying my own colleagues to do the same,” he said in an email. “I cannot vote for a budget that continues to cut our school funding... We must wait on an education budget and focus on passing corporate revenue reform before the end of session.”
Senators expressed a desire to pass the education bill now to give school districts some measure of budgeting certainty. Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland), who carried the bill, pointed out that $8.2 billion was more than schools had been led to expect by proposals earlier in the session and that it is more than state analysts calculated was needed for current service levels.
School budget officials dispute that estimation, though, saying the state underestimated salary and health care costs. Districts say they need $8.4 billion to maintain current services. The Oregon Education Association is pressing for $8.6 billion so that schools can make progress on state education goals, according to OEA Board Member Tina Leaton.
Jim Green, OSBA executive director, said, “We still believe that $8.2 billion is too low.”
“We are hopeful for a revenue package that can get schools to adequate funding,” Green said.