The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2000 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.
New Budget Model Stresses Accountability
For the first time, the Oregon legislature this year crafted its education budget under a process resulting from a ballot measure aimed at making lawmakers more accountable for the impact of funding on student achievement.
Under the revised system, the legislature was required to identify by how much its funding for schools fell short of the amount that a state commission had determined was needed to meet the state's education goals, and then to adjust the expectations for students' academic gains accordingly.
That 11-member statewide commission, appointed in 1999 by Gov. John A. Kitzhaber and state schools Superintendent Stan Bunn, devised a funding system—the Quality Education Model—that served as the basis of this year's education budget.
Oregon voters overwhelmingly supported Mr. Kitzhaber's ballot initiative last year requiring the legislature to provide schools with enough money to implement "best practices" identified by the commission, and to spell out the effect of falling short of that sum.
The governor used the funding model to draft his education budget, a step that some observers say dramatically changed Oregon's budget deliberations this year.
"It focused the debate on why are we giving them this money," said Ozzie Rose, the executive director of the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, a state membership organization.
Still, the $5.2 billion in the state's K-12 education budget for the fiscal 2002-03 biennium is $862 million short of the model laid out by the commission, forcing the governor to phase in his education plans.
Proposed funding for dropout-prevention programs in secondary schools, a mentoring program for beginning teachers, and $4.2 million in aid for low-performing schools were scrapped. The 2000-01 biennial education budget was $4.8 billion.
Gov. Kitzhaber's new $220 million School Improvement Fund to strengthen elementary school students' reading skills survived the session, however. Under the program, every district will receive about $168 per student this school year to improve 3rd and 5th graders' reading skills. Among the strategies districts may use are hiring more teaching assistants or decreasing class size.
Half the dollars in the school improvement fund are being shifted from the education budget, while the rest will come from the state's general fund.
With the additional funding for school districts, 90 percent of the state's 3rd and 5th graders are expected to reach the state reading standard by 2005, under guidelines outlined in the School Improvement Fund.
Because of the funding shortfall, legislators and the governor are not counting on secondary school students to make significant gains over the next two years, said Jean Thorne, Mr. Kitzhaber's education adviser.
Ms. Thorne said the governor considers the funding model a "huge victory" and the first step in tying student performance to the budget.
Before the start of each legislative session, the funding model is to be revised to keep pace with state academic standards, Ms. Thorne said. She added that the model "provides meaning to the numbers."
But some Republican legislators concerned that the commission will become a tool to justify continued spending increases for education, said Rep. Vic L. Backlund, the chairman of the House Student Achievement and Accountability Commission.
While the education budget enjoyed bipartisan support, Rep. Backlund, a retired teacher, acknowledged that some of his fellow Republicans were reluctant to support the funding model because they believe it will be hard to measure student outcomes based on the amount of money spent.
"If we don't get any improved test results based on the statewide assessment, then skeptics [of the Quality Education Model] may become more visible and open about their opposition," he said.
—Karla Scoon Reid
Vol. 21, Issue 2, Page 21