Revenue forecast recasts State School Funding debate
Monday, May 24, 2021
For months, legislators have denied school leaders’ request for an adequate State School Fund by pointing to the generous amounts of federal emergency funding available and saying they need state money for other areas.
Well, now no one can say it is just K-12 public schools that have a boatload of unexpected money.
Oregon, on top of its own federal emergency relief, is rolling in state revenue, said state economist Mark McMullen, who presented the latest Economic and Revenue Forecast on Wednesday, May 19. The projections call for about $1 billion a biennium in new revenue through 2025. State finances look solid for years even after the federal tap gets turned off.
Senior economist Josh Lehner said they had never seen anything like this economic turnaround after last year's dire predictions.
It also explodes all the cautious excuses for not giving public schools $9.6 billion, the amount school business officials have calculated is necessary to allow most districts to maintain their current teachers, classes and services. Schools aren’t asking for a boost with this extra money. They just want to stay even.
The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday, May 25, on Senate Bill 5514, which would allocate $9.3 billion for the State School Fund. OSBA and other education advocates are pushing hard to have legislators reconsider school funding in light of the state’s flush financial standing. Watch for an OSBA action alert email coming soon.
OSBA’s Legislative Services also offers resources to help advocate for more funding, including help contacting your local legislators.
In my time in the Legislature, I have never experienced such a booming revenue forecast just over a year after economists were screaming the sky is falling. Legislators were understandably spooked, but it’s time to look up and see the sun is shining.
Former Sen. Arnie Roblan, who was just elected to the Coos Bay School Board, knows a few things about state budgets from his years in the Legislature as well as a high school principal. Roblan was one of the authors of 2019’s Student Success Act, which created additional resources and services for traditionally underserved student populations.
“Without a sufficient budget, our historic work is in jeopardy because schools would need to backfill their operations budget with investment dollars from the Student Success Act,” he said. “That was not the intent of the Legislature.”
When the state has so much money now, why would we send schools hurtling toward a funding cliff next biennium after the current federal stimulus runs out and the bills come due for a shortfall budget this biennium?
Some legislators have painted $9.3 billion as more-than-full funding because of a legislative analysis putting the current service level need at almost $9 billion, a few million less than the previous biennium. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials, using actual reported budgets from districts, has clearly found that less than $9.6 billion would harm most districts and be devastating for some.
As many legislators have said, now is not the time to underfund our students who have been hurt in so many ways over the past 14 months.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan issued a statement with a direct appeal for higher school funding, while still keeping in mind the state’s other needs.
“Oregon has the opportunity for one-time spending on wildfire relief and pandemic aid,” she said. “We should also fully fund schools next year when they need help most. Our kids’ education recovery is critical, and we must give families the choice to return to classrooms full time. Our state cannot afford to underfund students.”