Legislature reports state school funding not adequate – again
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
The Legislature indulged Tuesday in its biennial rubberstamping of its failure to meet public education funding goals.
A 2001 state law requires the Legislature to appropriate enough money to meet Oregon’s Quality Education Model or publish a report saying why it couldn’t. The Legislature has never met the model’s funding goals.
The committee took testimony Tuesday on the draft report. It says the state again failed to meet its goals because of insufficient funds and growing costs but notes the state is closing the gap, from 23.9% in 2001 to 6% now. However, that gap was mostly closed by the addition of money from the Student Success Act and the High School Success Fund (Measure 98), money that was intended to be additional funds. Federal emergency aid money was not included because it is assumed to be one-time funds.
Education advocates told the Joint Interim Special Committee on Public Education Appropriation that it’s time to change how Oregon calculates its education funding needs. The Legislature’s current service level calculations don’t accurately portray cost growth or account for the range of student and staff needs, especially with COVID-19, they said.
The Quality Education Commission estimated in 2020 that Oregon needed a $10 billion 2021-23 State School Fund in addition to other state and federal funding to provide a high-quality education to all Oregon students.
The Legislature allotted $9.3 billion. The Legislative Fiscal Office’s analysis said school districts needed $9 billion to maintain current services, but many districts reported they would have to make cuts at that level. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials calculated schools needed $9.6 billion to maintain current staff and programs, not including any additional coronavirus expenses.
Lori Sattenspiel, OSBA Legislative Services director, said OSBA and other education advocates would like to work with the Legislature to create a better estimate of the current service level rather than arguing every other session about the final number.
The pandemic has added strains on staff and students without the funding models accounting for the extra expenses, she said.
“Failure to fund the level recommended by the QEM means there are not enough financial resources in the system to address the suffering and distress,” Sattenspiel said.
Morgan Allen, representing the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, said budget calculations need to take into account that COVID-19 impacts on students, staff and facilities are here to stay.
“It’s critically important that we acknowledge at this point today that Oregon schools are entering really a new era,” said Allen, COSA’s deputy executive director of policy and advocacy.
Legislators must look at the need for more student wrap-around services, as well as COVID-19 fluctuations in enrollment that affect funding, he said. Workforce development costs also need to be included as school districts struggle with staffing issues and students’ changing support needs.
With the Student Success Act’s contributions to school funding, the Legislative report concluded the 2021-23 State School Fund needed to be $9.86 billion to meet state goals. Multiple people testifying Tuesday noted that the act’s funds were intended to be additional money on top of adequate state funds and not a plug to help the state meet current needs.
School districts across Oregon have reported using the act’s Student Investment Account money to hold onto staff or programs their general fund allotment would no longer cover.
The committee expects to adopt the final report at its next meeting Dec. 6.