$9.3 billion State School Fund moves forward despite opposition
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
A legislative committee moved forward a $9.3 billion State School Fund bill Wednesday, but it faces resistance from Gov. Kate Brown and education advocates.
OSBA, the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, the Oregon Education Association and other school advocates say $9.6 billion is necessary for 2021-23 for most Oregon school districts to maintain their current staff, learning time and programs.
Senate Bill 5514, approved Wednesday by the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee, offers $9.3 billion, with $200 million coming from the Education Stability Fund. In what is known as a “gut and stuff,” SB 226 was amended to replace language on studying media programs in schools with authorization for tapping the reserve fund.
Both bills are scheduled for a possible vote Friday before the full Ways and Means Committee. If passed, they would go to the Senate floor. SB 5513 analysis includes projected school district allocations.
On Monday, Brown sent a letter to Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek saying that pulling from the reserve fund would be “potentially unconstitutional.”
Under the Oregon Constitution, the Legislature cannot tap reserves unless the state has a recession or the governor declares an emergency. Earlier in the biennium, Oregon faced a recession, but the last quarterly economic and revenue forecast showed Oregon on track to collect more than expected. On Wednesday, May 19, the Legislature will get its final revenue report before completing the state budget.
Oregon House Republicans declared support Wednesday for $9.6 billion, but subcommittee member Rep. E. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, failed in his efforts to have SB 5514 amended for $9.6 billion.
Subcommittee Co-Chair Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, cited school districts’ need to finish their budgets soon in opposing a motion to delay the bill’s passage.
OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel said she thinks the Legislature should slow down on the schools funding budget – not a position she often takes.
“We wish they would wait for the budget forecast because we expect there to be more money,” she said. “We need to get to $9.6 billion for the boys and girls.”
SB 5514 represents an increase from legislators’ original proposal in March of $9.1 billion.
“$9.3 billion is better than $9.1 billion, but it’s still not enough,” said OSBA Board President Maureen Wolf. “It still leaves school districts trying to juggle federal dollars and Student Investment Account money to meet their operating budgets.”
In 2019, the Legislature passed the Student Success Act with a Student Investment Account to give schools additional money to lift achievement, especially with historically underserved students.
A Legislative Fiscal Office report estimated that schools need $9 billion to maintain current services. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials says the state’s statute-dictated formula does not fully account for actual costs. Based on districts’ expenses and contracts, OASBO calculated that schools need $9.6 billion in the State School Fund for most districts to remain whole.
OASBO Executive Director Angie Peterman said she did not know of any districts that would not have to make cuts at $9 billion. Peterman said she appreciates the Legislature increasing to $9.3 billion but it would still fall painfully short.
“It’s still a cuts budget,” she said. “I still believe that leaves the majority of districts getting reductions.”
Wolf, the Tigard-Tualatin School Board chair, said they would continue to advocate for $9.6 billion. Her board passed a resolution Monday night pressing legislators for $9.6 billion.
At $9.3 billion, Tigard-Tualatin would be $7 million short and would have to look at scaling back efforts at increasing equity and closing opportunity gaps, she said.
Wolf said that flies in the face of the Student Success Act’s intentions and supporting students’ extra pandemic needs. Wolf said the Legislature needs to be helping schools fund basic services instead of adding extra costs such as a bill on class sizes, SB 580.
SB 580 would make class sizes a “mandatory” subject of collective bargaining, meaning unions can force negotiations. Some districts that have bargained on class sizes have included extra payments to teachers for larger classes.
Supporters have positioned the bill as an effort to reduce class sizes, but school leaders say it will increase staff costs without any real change to class sizes.
“You’re going to force negotiations on class sizes and you’re not giving us adequate dollars,” Wolf said. “I’m not quite sure how that is going to add up that is good for kids.”
Brown’s letter opposing the current school budget also raised the Student Success Act’s goals and said the Legislature needed to slow down and listen to communities of color. She said the current budget does not address historic disparities.
“Let me be clear: I will not sign a budget that leaves students from communities of color behind,” Brown wrote.