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Quality Education Model sets bar, but state needs revenue reform to reach it
Monday, October 29, 2018
Jewett Elementary second-grader Neomi Bugarin wants more “science things” for her school, but says it would be rude to ask adults to foot the bill.
Instead she suggests the children can do things like a jog-a-thon to pay for education materials for their school in Central Point, just north of Medford.
The nonpartisan Quality Education Commission, however, maintains that it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to provide more money for schools.
The governor-appointed commission includes administrators, educators, school board members and education advocates. Every two years since 2000, the commission has created a blueprint of what a high-quality Oregon public education would look like and cost. And every two years, the Legislature falls more than $1 billion short of the Quality Education Model, and sometimes more than $2 billion.
The QEM has become a rallying point this year as the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success has explored what Oregonians want from schools and are willing to pay. Committee Co-Vice Chair Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, pledged during a September meeting that he would introduce legislation in 2019 to fund the model.
To meet the 2019-21 model’s $10.7 billion estimate, Oregon will likely need to increase revenue and reduce costs that are sucking dollars away from the classrooms. OSBA has made attaining the Quality Education Model part of its revenue reform and cost containment advocacy effort for the 2019 Legislature.
It’s a big increase: $2.5 billion more to the State School Fund from this biennium.
“The reality is the QEM number would put us just slightly above average in per-pupil spending across the nation,” said John Rexford, one of the commission’s current nine members. “This is not asking for the moon and stars.”
Oregon ranked 30th nationally in 2016 per-pupil spending at $10,842, according to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau data. The U.S. average was $11,762.
The Quality Education Commission creates its report by looking at education best practices and creating model elementary, middle and high schools with ideal class sizes, support staff and programs to reach all students. It then extrapolates the cost for Oregon’s student numbers.
Rexford, a former superintendent of the High Desert Education Service District, said the commission found clear linkage between additional funding and student success. The report said that a 10 percent increase in per-pupil funding would lead to a 10 percentage point increase in graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students and a 2.5 percentage point increase for others.
“Resources are the biggest limiter,” he said.
Since 2001, state law has required the Legislature to appropriate in each biennium enough money to meet the QEM. The Oregon Supreme Court, though, ruled in 2009 that because of an errant
comma in the law the Legislature can alternatively publish a report that says why the state couldn’t fund to the model. The Legislature has filed a report every biennium.
Education funding is usually based on what is politically possible instead of what research says schools require. Legislators base the State School Fund on what was spent the previous biennium, even if it was inadequate, rather than examining system spending needs.
Neomi Bugarin, a second-grader at Jewett Elementary in Central Point, says she is willing to run laps to earn money for her school. Education advocates say Oregon needs revenue reform so the Legislature can allocate enough money for schools to best serve their students. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Sen. Arnie Roblan, a member of the Ways and Means Committee since 2012, said the Legislature looks at all the state’s expenses and the available income and then fights over how to divide the money. The state’s revenue has been squeezed because of measures limiting property taxes and expenses mandated by initiatives and the Oregon Constitution, he said.
“When you are all done, you don’t have enough to pay for schools at the QEM level,” he said. Roblan, D-Coos Bay, is chair of the Senate Interim Education Committee and co-chair of the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success.
The Legislature appropriated $8.2 billion for schools in 2017-19, 21.6 percent short of the model.
Roblan said he thinks paying for the model would require revenue reform to increase funding.
That’s what Washington did in 2017.
Washington changed its local and state property tax structure to increase per-pupil spending 19 percent by 2021, according to data from the Washington superintendent of public instruction’s office.
Forced by a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling, Washington will increase public school spending by a net $5.5 billion from 2018 to 2021, according to the superintendent’s office.
“Almost all of that is going to staff compensation, and now we have to start driving more of that money into the classroom,” said Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.
A budget agreement restructured public education salary schedules, which in effect earmarked about 80 percent of the new money for salary increases, leading to teacher strikes this year. Teachers sought significant raises, while districts worried about the sustainability of budgets with new limits on local levies.
Reykdal said the budget agreement’s salary stipulations and local property tax limits took away districts’ ability to address local needs, such as early learning and supplemental instruction.
In Oregon, Quality Education Commission member Beth Gerot said it is important that with new money the Oregon Legislature allow districts and schools to make education system decisions.
“One of the messages we’re going to have for them is: ‘Don’t do very specific dedicated funding,’” she said.
Gerot pointed to class sizes as an example. She said mandated class size reductions were “horribly expensive” and may not be the best use of money for every district. She said districts should have the flexibility to determine their own needs, such as more support staff, counselors or education assistants.
She said districts have shown they can be successful when they address local needs. The latest commission report highlighted that despite essentially flat inflation-adjusted school budgets, schools have raised graduation rates 9 percentage points in eight years.
“Clearly we are underfunded, and clearly we have seen districts doing more with less,” she said.
Gerot said the commission wants the Legislature and the public to look at the research on effective practices presented in the QEM, not just the spending number.
The model’s education system would have more adults in schools and teachers would have more time to collaborate, develop skills and get to know their students, Gerot said. More preschools would help children prepare socially and emotionally for school, and the schools would have the means to address issues such as attendance, childhood trauma and equity.
At the Student Success Committee hearings around the state, education advocates and the public have echoed those calls. School officials repeatedly said schools need to hire more staff: more teachers, more counselors, more coaches, more cafeteria help.
Educators say relationships and connections with adults in schools are key to helping students succeed.
Juan Cardenas, a 20-year-old senior, said responsive staff at Tualatin High School helped him restart his education after struggling at another school.
“I never did well because I didn’t receive the help that I would have loved,” Cardenas said. He tried several alternative programs before finding the right fit.
Cardenas is determined to graduate. He has found work and is rapidly making up credits with the help of Tualatin High’s Community Experience for Career Education, which connects internships with school credits.
The connections that Juan Cardenas, 20, has made with Tualatin High Principal Michael Dellerba and other school staff have helped Cardenas restart his education and put him on the path to graduation. Education advocates say schools need more money to add staff, giving every student a chance to make meaningful school connections that are important for academic success. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Tigard-Tualatin School Board Chair Jill Zurschmeide said that with the right funding, schools could develop intervention programs to keep students from dropping out or being expelled. Tigard-
Tualatin had an Alternatives to Expulsion program that might have helped Cardenas but budget cuts and the instability of grant funding have limited the district’s reach, she said.
Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said increasing Tigard-Tualatin’s budget by the model’s recommended 21.6 percent would have allowed the district to add 10 days of school and more wrap-around services, as well as restore electives and extras such as music, art and libraries.
“Today’s children are not getting the same level of electives and opportunity as their parents,” she said.
Central Point School District Superintendent Samantha Steele said the first thing she would do with more funding is hire more teachers and then more support staff, particularly licensed staff, such as child development specialists.
Central Point is adding facilities such as maker spaces so that students can apply what they are learning outside the classroom. Steele said the old-fashioned school divide of vocational paths and college paths no longer makes sense. Trade jobs require more skills than in the past, including technological, and college-bound students need hands-on learning and job skills, as many must work as they pursue degrees.
“We need to provide a broader range of experiences than a seven-period class schedule can offer,” she said.
Students, too, say they want more variety and depth of classes.
Senior Emme Herring would like to see a more diverse class selection at the Crater School of Business, Innovation and Science in Central Point. She said it would help students discover what they want to do with their lives and stay interested in school.
Kyrah Christensen, a Crater Renaissance Academy sophomore, plans to be a teacher. She thinks Oregon should invest in students’ futures through education.
“If we’re wanting to pursue something, it would be nice to get the help,” she said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA