Governor’s budget plan pays heed to students’ needs
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Gov. Kate Brown’s 2021-23 budget proposal released Tuesday offers a solid foundation for State School Fund negotiations.
The governor’s recommended budget and policy agenda envisions $9.1 billion for the State School Fund, a $100 million increase from the last biennium. It would fully fund High School Success, known as Measure 98, at $318 million and allocate $778.8 million to the Student Investment Account. The account, one of three funds in the Student Success Act, provides direct grants to school districts based on enrollment.
The Legislature will decide state spending during its 2021 session, but the governor’s budget provides numbers to kick off the discussion. The opening word for K-12 public schools is encouraging, according to education advocates.
Brown’s proposal also emphasizes equity and racial justice, issues that have pushed to the forefront of school leaders’ attention this year. Her proposal includes targeted spending for communities of color that have seen opportunity gaps widened by distance learning, COVID-19 economic fallout and the fall’s devastating wildfires.
“This provides a starting point, especially in focusing on equity and addressing the needs of traditionally underserved students,” said Jim Green, OSBA executive director. “But Oregon still has a long way to go to make up ground our students have lost during the pandemic. As we return to in-person instruction, it’s vital that we provide the resources our young people need to be successful.”
Brown’s $25.6 billion general fund and lottery money proposal would increase spending about 8%. State economists predict only a 5% growth in Oregon revenue, better than expected when the pandemic began but not enough to meet current service levels for all state agencies.
Brown’s budget relies on revenue-generating policy changes the Legislature would have to pass and $215 million from the rainy-day Education Stability Fund. It also includes cuts to the courts system and the Oregon Health Plan. She proposed holding the Community College Support Fund to $641 million, the same as last biennium. With inflation, that would force cuts at community colleges.
Brown encouraged education advocates and the public to ask their congressional members for more federal funding for schools because Oregon can’t meet the pandemic’s costs on its own. Unlike the federal government, states must balance their budgets, even when the economy falters.
“This budget doesn’t put enough money into our schools,” she said at a Tuesday news conference. “It’s a budget built on sacrifice and hard choices. … We need the federal government to stand up and respond to this moment of crisis.”
Brown sent a letter Tuesday urging congressional leaders to consider students’ educational needs in a new COVID-19 relief package.
School leaders are facing a variety of increased costs related to COVID-19, both now and stretching into the future. The coronavirus has added expenses for transportation, facilities, health and safety equipment, and technology needs. School leaders are also looking at adding instructional time, such as extending the school year, and other supports to make up for lost learning and to draw back students who have fallen behind with distance learning. Credit recovery and counseling programs will be needed for years to come to cope with the pandemic’s disruptions.
The Oregon Association of School Business Officials’ preliminary calculations estimate schools would need about a $9.5 billion to $9.6 billion State School Fund to maintain current service levels, according to OASBO Executive Director Angie Peterman.
She cautioned though that there are still a lot of unknowns, from how Student Success Act funding will be used to the impact of the wildfires on property taxes.
Morgan Allen, deputy executive director of policy and advocacy for the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, praised Brown for prioritizing K-12 funding and meeting the needs of students.
COSA is excited to see investments in diversifying the school workforce, supporting districts hardest hit by wildfires, improving school facilities and broadband infrastructure, he said.
“We have some work to do with the Legislature to increase the State School Fund, but we have done that successfully before,” Allen said.