In early June, the Oregon State Senate approved an $8.2 billion budget for K-12 schools; the vote now goes to the House, and if approved, on to the Governor. An $8.2 billion budget is $200 million short of the cost to maintain current service levels. Education advocates – including OEA – know this proposal falls far short of what’s needed to avoid educator layoffs, loss of critical programs, and cuts to school days.
First-year Representative Diego Hernandez (and OEA-PIE recommended candidate) of Portland was removed from the budget committee that originally considered the proposal because he couldn’t bear to vote for an education budget that, he believes, would harm students.
“I definitely did not want to offend any of my colleagues by making that decision,” he said. “But on the other hand, I also am proud to stand up and make a statement and say that we do need to do more.” Hernandez said he wants to see lawmakers approve a plan to overhaul corporate taxes as a way to adequately fund education.
Numbers run by the Oregon Association of School Business Officers show that districts will need at least $8.4 billion in the next biennium to avoid cuts, including educator layoffs and reduced school days in some districts.
The Public Employee Retirement System has also announced it will increase schools' employee pension rates significantly this year, with higher costs coming in 2019 and 2021.
On the day of the budget vote, education advocates lined the halls of the state capitol chanting “8.2 just won’t do.” OEA leaders, who stood in this crowd, are pushing for a budget of $8.6 billion, and encouraging lawmakers to vote "no" on the current plan.
OEA recently filed two 2018 ballot initiatives, one of which would raise as much as $1.75 billion a year in corporate taxes to fund K-12 and higher education. The other measure would make it easier for the Legislature to raise those taxes to fund education by eliminating a super majority revenue requirement in certain cases.
"The education budget released is inadequate and once again prioritizes big corporations over students, families, and local communities," OEA President Hanna Vaandering said in response to the vote. "Meanwhile, Oregon corporations would continue to enjoy the some of the lowest corporate taxes in the country – benefitting from our public schools but not paying their fair share."
Many lawmakers, even those who ended up voting in favor, expressed their agreement. "It is indeed a floor," Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said in an Oregonian article. Frederick was reluctant to vote for the bill because "we need to have significantly more for our students and our future."