Oregon House passes $7.255B school budget

Teachers unions and Republicans protest plan, saying it doesn’t provide enough funding.

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On a 35-25 party-line vote, the Oregon House of Representatives passed a $7.255 billion K-12 educational budget Tuesday.

Republicans and school advocates said it won’t be enough, while Democrats stress the number represents the baseline for school spending, the Statesman Journal reports.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Portland, and Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, have said the $7.255 billion is a “floor,” and the bill contains a provision to add more money after the May revenue forecast, if it shows more money than previously predicted.

Democratic legislative leaders say the 9 percent increase would allow most districts to offer full-day kindergarten to all students without cutting budgets beyond current levels. Besides funding full-day kindergarten for every child in the state, the bill also supports high-needs students and English language learners. It also ensures that every low-income student eat lunch.

Adding money for schools later on could adversely affect other budget items, the Register-Guard writes.

Democrats say they will increase K-12 funding later in the session if more money becomes available. Doing so now, however, would blow huge holes in the state’s prison and human services budgets.

“This is a floor, meaning that, no matter what happens, we will not send any less to our kids,” said House Majority Leader Val Hoyle of Eugene. “As it stands right now … we’re $140 million short in the human services budget, we’re incredibly short in the public safety budget … (Those cuts) are going to be tough choices.”

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass by the end of the week, Senate President Peter Courtney has said.

Democrats touted the provision in the budget that allows for $12.5 million for English language classes in “struggling” schools, the Portland Business Journal reports.

“With the investment included in this budget to support ELL programs, we have the ability to turn a crisis into a real opportunity for students throughout our state,” said Rep. Joe Gallegos, a Hillsboro Democrat, in a release.

In an article published early Tuesday by the Medford Mail Tribune, Republicans complained about being “sidelined this session.”

Rep. Mike McLane, the minority Republican leader from Powell Butte, said Democrats purposely have underfunded education as they expand other government programs.

“They have chosen their victim, and they will say business doesn’t pay enough, so they will tax business and the rich,” McLane said. “It is an embarrassment to our state and to our nation.”

The Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Ron Wilkinson said if the budget is passed, cuts are inevitable, the Bend Bulletin reports.

The district will open a middle school and an elementary school in Bend in the 2015-16 school year and switch to full-day kindergarten, a move districts across the state must make.

“I would say that it’s not adequate for us to cover the cost of adding full-day kindergarten and opening our two new schools next year,” Wilkinson said, noting most of the district’s budget goes to personnel costs and cuts would likely come from there.


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