$9.3 billion State School Fund still not enough, school board says
The Tigard-Tualatin School Board is telling its legislators that Oregon needs at least a $9.6 billion State School Fund even as there are rumblings the Legislature might offer more than its initial proposals.
The Legislative Fiscal Office, the nonpartisan research arm for the Legislature, has recommended a $9.3 billion State School Fund, assuming a $200 million transfer from the Education Stability Fund. The LFO previously estimated that schools would need $9 billion to maintain current service levels for 2021-23, but education leaders say that formula-dictated calculation badly underestimates actual school district costs.
The co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee came forth in March with a budget framework that included a $9.1 billion State School Fund it claimed would hold school districts “harmless from cuts.” School leaders have been fighting that notion ever since, and the Tigard-Tualatin board put it in writing Monday, May 10.
The board passed a resolution asking the Legislature for at least a $9.6 billion State School Fund, the minimum Oregon school leaders say is needed to maintain current teachers and classes in most school districts.
The resolution said “adequately” funding public schools is among the most critical responsibilities of the Oregon Legislature. At less than $9.6 billion, the district may have to cut back plans to expand early learning, to reduce barriers for school participation by historically underserved students, and to further support social and emotional learning, the resolution said.
Board Chair Maureen Wolf would like other school districts to also apply pressure as the Legislature gears up to hash out the 2021-23 state budget.
“Now is the time for all school board members to contact their legislators so they understand the consequences of a $9.1 billion State School Fund,” said Wolf, the OSBA Board president.
The Monday evening discussion included the possibility of the Legislature offering $9.3 billion, but Tigard-Tualatin Chief Financial Officer David Moore said that would still likely lead to cuts.
The Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee has a work session scheduled Wednesday on Senate Bill 5514, the State School Fund bill, that includes the LFO recommendation.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green said that if the Legislature does not move to $9.6 billion, the Legislature hasn’t done its job to fund schools for full-capacity, in-person learning.
“We appreciate that we are moving in the right direction,” Green said. “The hard reality, though, is that our students need full school funding at $9.6 billion just to keep pace with current services.
“As we rebound from the pandemic, Oregon can’t afford to make decisions that shortchange our students. Cutting staff and school days is not the path to regain the ground we have lost. Students deserve better.”
OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel would like to see the subcommittee wait until after the May 19 Oregon economic and revenue report that will show exactly how much the state has to spend.
“Why are we rushing into this?” she said.
The bill could be pulled from consideration or amended later, but it offers a preview of legislators’ intentions. Education advocates are still trying to help legislators understand the school budget realities.
The Oregon Association of School Business Officials says the legislative analysis does not take into account actual health and pension costs and the effects of how the allotment is split for the biennium.
The Coalition of Oregon School Administrators has collected dozens of school district budget estimates showing catastrophic shortfalls at $9.1 billion.
For Tigard High School senior Jonathan Nguyen, $9.6 billion is more personal. Nguyen is vice president of the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union, a group of students who have been working for more than a year to make sports and activities more accessible to all students.
They have collected data and surveyed their peers to show the school board that fees stand in the way of some students sharing the academic, social and health benefits of extracurricular programs.
Nguyen knows, though, that if schools don’t receive enough money from the state to continue core functions, there won’t be any money for the students’ vision.
At a $9.1 billion State School Fund, the resolution says, Tigard-Tualatin would face a $9 million shortfall, the equivalent of 82 licensed teachers or three weeks of school.
“If we’re cutting that, which is the essential job of public education, then projects for lessening the burden for students will probably take a hit,” said Nguyen.
Board member Ben Bowman said a budget shortfall would negate much of legislators’ good intentions with the 2019 Student Success Act. The act offered additional money to schools for targeted programs, with an emphasis on helping historically underserved students.
“There is almost no way to cut the State School Fund and not undermine the goals of the Student Success Act,” Bowman said.
Legislators have pointed to the millions in state and federal emergency aid headed to schools to help fill gaps, but school leaders say that money is intended for COVID-19-related costs.
OASBO’s $9.6 billion estimate does not account for any additional spending to meet COVID-19 health and safety protocols and to help students recover from the trauma and missed learning. School districts are planning to use one-time federal and state emergency money for many of the additional expenses, but some responses, such as hiring counselors and adding credit recovery programs, will require ongoing support.
“$9.1 billion would be devastating to our district,” said Bowman. “If we use one-time funds to backfill, we will be in a really terrible place next time when those funds are gone.”
Nguyen said the next biennium’s public schools budget won’t matter to his education but it will affect the state he lives in.
“We know that a more educated body tends to lead to higher wages in the future, which in turn leads to higher tax revenue,” he said. “I believe it will come back to haunt us if we don’t invest in our education.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA