Weirder than usual weird week puts $9.3 billion as the number to work on
Monday, May 17, 2021
Gov. Kate Brown hurled a bomb this week into the State School Fund debate that has Capitol watchers scratching their heads about what’s next.
The Joint Ways and Means Committee passed Senate Bill 5514 on Friday, allocating $9.3 billion for the State School Fund. It’s better than the $9.1 billion the Legislature had proposed earlier, but still painfully short of the $9.6 billion school leaders say is needed to keep schools whole.
The drama isn’t done yet, though, and education advocates still have time to show their legislators why local students need $9.6 billion. The Economic and Revenue Report scheduled for May 19 is expected to help make the case that Oregon can spend more on its schools.
OSBA’s Legislative Services offers resources to help advocate for more funding, including help contacting your local legislators. Concerned individuals can also track the State School Fund’s progress and contact lawmakers through the Legislature’s website.
What an up-and-down week.
It started with a legislative budget recommendation to raise the State School Fund to $9.3 billion, with $200 million coming from the Education Stability Fund.
Here’s where the story gets weird, a term I have overused this session but events just keep demanding it. The governor sent a letter to legislative leaders that seemed to threaten a veto for using reserves. Oregon Public Broadcasting captured the essence of the letter’s demand for a more equitable school fund.
I have never encountered anything quite like this, and the letter was harsh on how schools spend money.
The Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee approved the $9.3 billion State School Fund bill and a supporting bill to take $200 million from the reserve fund, but not before Rep. E Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, tried repeatedly to amend the bill for $9.6 billion. House Republicans on Wednesday publicly announced support for $9.6 billion.
On Friday, Ways and Means passed the $9.3 billion, with Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, trying to amend the bill for $9.6 billion. But the committee “held over” SB 226, the companion bill to transfer $200 million from the reserve fund to the State School Fund.
Brown further muddied the waters Friday releasing a statement lauding $9.3 billion, saying lawmakers would finalize the funding sources after the Wednesday forecast.
She added that “In the coming days, the Governor’s Office and legislators will work with education leaders and leaders from communities of color to identify concrete actions to be undertaken in partnership with school districts” to address historic disparities in education and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on students of color.
What does this mean?
There is conversation going on behind the scenes that opens a small window for us to continue to push for additional money. Not only could the Wednesday hearing reveal more money available to the state, but additional revenues also could trigger the corporate kicker that is supposed to go to public K-12 education.
Education advocates have been making the argument that $9.6 billion is an equity issue. If schools are forced to make cuts, programs designed to help students who have historically been underserved might take the brunt.
SB 5514, which could come up for a vote as early as this week, can still be amended or the Legislature can add money to schools in other ways. Education advocates must help legislators understand the individual impacts of a shortfall budget before this train gets much farther down the tracks.