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Oregon school funding by Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett


Oregon school districts have been asking the Legislature for certainty in their budgets since the first day of the Legislative session.  They have also been asking that their funding be restored to current budget levels after Governor Kitzhaber proposed a reduction for the K-12 budget to $5.56 billion.

 Last Friday, the full Ways and Means Committee voted to adopt two bills that will provide Oregon K-12 education with virtually level funding for the next budget cycle. The committee adopted SB 5552 that allocates five billion seven hundred million dollars to the state school fund for the two year budget period. The funding will be evenly divided between the two years. One hundred million dollars of that amount will be distributed only to school districts that agree to use the funds to focus on services to students in the classroom.

 SB 5553 authorizes a transfer of one hundred million dollars from the education stability fund to a newly established subaccount for the next school year. This bill mandates that, in order to share in the distribution of those one hundred million dollars, the school districts must provide a written plan, and proof of compliance, that the districts use the money to provide for smaller class sizes, or other enhanced learning opportunities. A budget note makes clear that the sole purpose of that one hundred million is to enhance services to students.

 On Tuesday both bills passed the Senate on 30-0 votes. Wednesday SB 5552 passed the House on a 32-28 vote and SB 5553 passed the House on a 58-2 vote. Both bills are now on Governor Kitzhaberís desk and with his signature these bills will provide the school districts both the level funding, and the early budget certainty that they have requested.

 The combined state, local, and federal revenue for the schools should exceed ten billion dollars. They include an estimated $3.15 billion in local property tax revenues that will be available to the school districts in addition to that $5.7 billion state school fund allocation. That local property tax revenue for the next budget period is an increase of about one hundred million dollars. It is estimated that well more than one billion dollars in federal funding will also be distributed to the school districts outside of the state school fund formula.
 The members of the Ways and Means Committee, the entire Senate, and the majority of the House of Representatives have made the K-12 budget their highest priority.  The current two year K-12 budgets include federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants of more than $340 million. The Legislature has chosen to take $340 million   general fund and lottery fund money from other budgets in order to replace that ARRA grant money to keep the K-12 budgets whole.

 Lower budget allocations for the Oregon University System and the seventeen Community Colleges will be the certain result. In fact, the $5.7 billion state school fund appropriation will likely be the only allocation that is not reduced in the entire budgeting process.

 During our deliberations, the Ways and Means Committee acknowledged that very large deficits in both the human services and the public safety budgets are created by providing the school districts with their requested level funding. Those combined deficits may be as much as $1.4 billion dollars.

 The budget committees have a great deal more work to do. Our charge is to identify more than a billion dollars in savings between now and the end of June.

 The Oregon Constitution requires that the state legislature perform only two tasks. We are mandated to meet annually and to balance the state budgets in each two-year period. My personal budget priorities are to provide for public safety and to protect the well being of those who are truly not able to provide for themselves.

 The certain outcome of our failure to find those needed savings will be unacceptable reductions in public safety services. Moreover, critically important services to our most vulnerable and our senior citizens will be in jeopardy. It is my hope that all Legislators will be willing to keep all possible sources of those needed savings on the table until our work to balance the budgets is completed.

 Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.



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              Page Updated: Saturday April 16, 2011 01:59 AM  Pacific

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