Facing declining enrollment and the end of federal COVID-19 relief dollars, school districts in some parts of the state are facing steep cuts that have prompted protests and calls for additional funding to support students and staff still recovering from the pandemic.
Oregon schools receive a bulk of their funding from the State School Fund, which the Legislature approves every two years. With school budget season wrapping up across Oregon and without firm spending figures from the state, local school leaders have been operating under the assumption of a two-year fund of $9.9 billion to be split among Oregon’s 197 school districts based on student enrollment.
That $9.9 billion is an increase from the previous allocation of $9.3 billion, though education officials and school leaders continue to ask for $10.3 billion, which they say is needed to fully support school services.
Moving anything through the state Capitol has been nearly impossible recently, as Senate Republicans are three weeks into a walkout aimed at blocking Democratic priorities the minority party disagrees with. So far, Republicans have refused to return despite efforts from Gov. Tina Kotek this week.
However, the State School Fund allocation could be moving a little closer to higher spending levels favored by both parties.
Earlier this week, Oregon Democrats issued support for $10.2 billion in light of the state’s June revenue forecast, calling it a historic investment.
“We have a responsibility to instill a joy of learning in every student in this state,” said Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, in a press release announcement. Frederick is a co-chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means education subcommittee.
“Lifting up our schools and educators and improving learning outcomes in a meaningful way are key priorities this session, and doing so requires robust education funding proportionate to the scale of need we are seeing.”
Thursday, Kotek agreed.
“She [Kotek] is enthusiastically in support of the current $10.2 billion proposal for the Student School Fund under consideration in the legislature given the June revenue forecast,” said Kotek’s press secretary Elisabeth Shepard in an email to OPB. “Education is among the Governor’s top priorities this session.”
Kotek also backs an additional $20 million for early literacy, pushing beyond her own initial proposal to a total two-year investment in early literacy of $140 million. House Bill 3198, an early literacy bill that allocates uses for those funds, remains in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
On Tuesday, the Joint Subcommittee on education is set to meet to consider the new recommendation to increase funding for public schools. Under the new $10.2 billion allocation, districts would receive more funding over the next two years than originally planned. Portland Public Schools, Oregon’s largest school district, would receive an additional $22 million. The Beaverton School District would receive $20 million more.
These new funds would give districts a little more to work with and an opportunity to add back some of what was cut.
At a PPS board meeting Tuesday, where the board approved next year’s budget, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero alluded to the lack of clarity in how much school districts are receiving.
“We’re also now receiving really mixed messages from our state leaders about where things are at this point,” Guerrero said, while continuing to advocate for $10.3 billion. “$10.2 billion, that’s being proposed to the State School Fund, is an increase from what we’ve anticipated, but it’s still a cut to the current service level.”
The PPS board still has to adopt a budget next month.
It remains unclear whether Republicans in the Legislature will support the full $10.2 billion, though House Republicans unsuccessfully tried to push a bill Tuesday that would have sent $10.4 billion to schools, the Oregonian reported.
More information is likely to come during the meeting scheduled for next Tuesday. Republican leadership did indicate that senators who’ve been avoiding Salem would return June 25 to pass “bipartisan budgets and bills.”
It looks like the Legislature may pass a budget by the end of the session. But there are many bills, including education bills, that may not pass, said OSBA Director of Legislative Services Lori Sattenspiel.
“We’ve been laser-focused on advocating for the funding that our students need, and reaching $10.2 billion has relieved a lot of those pressures,” Sattenspiel said.
“What is outside of our control at this point are all the education policy bills. It’s increasingly looking like those will be on hold until next year or beyond.”
Several education-related bills remain stuck in the Senate, scheduled for a second or third reading that may not happen, including a bill requiring districts to send notifications in case of emergencies, another that would educate students about Jewish culture, and legislation that would add spots for classified staff members to the Oregon State Board of Education.