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Education advocates explain need for $8.4 billion in State School Fund

Advocates for education at Thursday’s hearing in the Capitol on the State School Fund include (from left) South Lane School District Superintendent Krista Parent, OSBA Board President Betty Reynolds, McMinnville School District Superintendent Maryalice Russell, OEA President Hanna Vaandering, Portland Public Schools Board Student Representative Aliemah Bradley and Oregon PTA President Collin Robinson. (Photo by Rachel Fleenor, OSBA)

OSBA, in coordination with COSA and the OEA, arranged 10 speakers across a series of three panels Thursday in the Capitol to present the need for increased education funding.

The Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee took testimony on two bills, Senate Bills 5516 and 5517, that represent the bulk of the funding for Oregon schools. Much of the testimony focused on the need for an $8.4 billion appropriation to the State School Fund to avoid painful education cuts. SB 5517 offers $8.02 billion.

“The proposed budget is far below what the Quality Education Commission identifies as needed, and about $380 million short of what school business managers across the state have told us we need just to maintain current service levels,” OSBA President Betty Reynolds testified.

“In many of the state's 197 school districts, it's a cuts budget,” she said. “This issue affects more than 578,000 public school students. Those kids are our future: Oregon's economy is dependent upon a well-educated workforce.”

Aliemah Bradley, a senior at Jefferson High in Portland, testified about the progress her school has been able to make recently and how a cuts budget imperils that.

“At Jefferson,” she said, “we have made remarkable progress on improving our graduation rates. The graduation rate for the class of 2014 was 66 percent. Last school year, that number was 84 percent. With this crisis budget, there is potential for serious setbacks in that progress.”

Maryalice Russell, superintendent of the McMinnville School District, testified about her tenure as an administrator and the experience of students who were in first-grade in 2009. Some of those students attended the hearing.

“I have been a school administrator for 35 years,” she said. “For 25 of those years, I’ve had to make cuts. The students I met as first-graders, the students here with me today, have been attending our schools during budget cut after budget cut after budget cut, due to inadequate K-12 funding. They need to be assured that the programs of study they are planning for today are here tomorrow and are here through their graduation in June 2019.”

There was no opposition to the given testimony from any subcommittee members. Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland), subcommittee co-chair, responded generally to the request for a larger State School Fund allocation by saying that, to his disappointment and frustration, the budget would not support an increase in school funding given the current revenue level.

Unfortunately, he said, when he joined the subcommittee, “they didn’t give me a printing press” to print more money. He said revenue reform was necessary if there was going to be an increased level of funding to schools.

- Richard Donovan
Legislative specialist