Oregon Schools Feast After Famine in Funding
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2006 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Lawmakers in Oregon used their recently concluded legislative session to give K-12 public schools a major funding boost, approving a record $6.245 billion for the next fiscal biennium—an 18 percent increase over 2005-07 levels. The state’s overall budget is $15.1 billion for fiscal 2007-2009.
“It was a great bump for us—the most funding we’ve had in a decade,” said Susanne Smith, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Education.
The cornucopia includes $39 million in new aid for Head Start, increasing by 20 percentage points the number of financially eligible children who can take advantage of its programs. The legislature also allotted $260 million in new money for the School Improvement Fund, which allows school districts to select from a menu of state-approved priorities, including decreased class sizes, implementation of all-day kindergarten, and enhanced professional development.
In addition, the lawmakers approved $5 million for teacher mentoring, appropriating $5,000 per teacher. Schools will also be able to draw from a $300 million state “rainy day” fund during a future recession.
And in a move state education officials view as significant, the legislature cleared the way for a 2008 ballot measure that would, in effect, repeal a major crimp in capital improvements: the state constitution’s so-called “double majority” requirement. Previously, proposals to raise property taxes for school construction bonds and other purposes required not only a majority of ballot votes, but also the voting participation of more than 50 percent of voters.
That legislative action is especially important, said Patrick Burk, the Oregon Department of Education’s chief policy officer, given that estimates of building maintenance deferred because of budget pressure during the last half-dozen years range from $10 billion to $15 billion.
Vol. 26, Issue 43, Page 23