Brown's proposed budget for education draws mixed response
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown stressed the importance of funding public education when she released her spending blueprint for the 2019-21 biennium late last month.
But in Washington County and beyond, Brown's proposed $83.5 billion two-year budget is getting mixed reviews from school districts — and a strongly negative response from community colleges.
Brown announced a record expansion of school funding in revealing her plans for her final term, targeting reduced class sizes for students and more teachers for schools.
During the past three decades, Oregon has ignored education spending, Brown said during her Nov. 28 budget presentation.
According to the proposed budget, education is now underfunded by $1 billion per year. To counter that, Brown is proposing spending $800 million of her new education dollars on bolstering the K-12 system, expanding the school year to 180 days and limiting class sizes for kindergarten through the third grade.
While Brown's proposal would still leave the Hillsboro School District short of the funding level it wants to see, her proposal would help, district spokeswoman Beth Graser said.
"We are pleased with the direction the governor is taking with her proposed budget," Graser said. "Her K-12 allocation of $8.972 billion would mean HSD would be facing a shortfall of approximately $11 million over the 2019-21 biennium as opposed to $20.5 million if the allocation were $8.7 billion."
Graser said if the district does receive the money allocated to expanding the school year and reducing class sizes, it wouldn't come through the State School Fund, but rather through a separate School Improvement Fund.
"If that funding did materialize, the Hillsboro School District would theoretically be able to add five school days to the calendar and reduce class sizes by five in grades K-3," Graser said.
And it's something the district strongly supports, she added.
"Lengthening the school year and reducing class sizes are definitely values we share with the governor," Graser said. "We realize that sustainable revenue streams need to be put in place for those changes to occur, and will be actively engaging with our elected officials and with our community to ensure they know we are supportive of collaborative solutions that would enable significant, long-term investments in our K-12 education system. "
The HSD currently has 174 school days per year for elementary students and 175 days per year for secondary students, according to Graser. Adding five school days to each calendar year would cost approximately $8.3 million. It costs approximately $171,500 per grade level to lower class size by one, she said.
For the Forest Grove School District, it's a step in the right direction, but it's still not enough, Superintendent Dave Parker said.
"The governor's initial budget number is underneath what FGSD will need to provide current service levels of staffing and operations, but it is closer than what we have seen in previous years," Parker said. "FGSD would need $9.13 billion in the K-12 budget for us to maintain current service levels and maintain an adequate ending fund balance in 2021."
The district is not getting its hopes up just yet, however, Parker added.
"The governor's budget has also laid out a framework for reinvesting in education, and FGSD is guardedly optimistic that the State of Oregon is going to examine its chronic underfunding of the K-12 education system, and do something about it," he said. "The state has had an estimate of what a quality education system would cost since 2002, when it commissioned the Quality Education Model."
He added, "The State of Oregon's current ($8.2 billion) education budget is inadequate to produce the results that I think Oregonians want from their education system. FGSD is ready and willing to work with our colleagues in the legislature, the Department of Education, our staff and our community to evolve our system and provide better outcomes for students. However, it will take people and that means an investment by our state."
Portland Community College was disappointed in Brown's proposed budget, stating that it would cut funding for community colleges across the state.
Brown has proposed two budget scenarios, both of which have major implications for Oregon's community colleges, PCC said in a release.
Brown's "base budget" recommendation is $543 million for the Community College Support Fund, which would "result in deep cuts at community colleges," PCC said, due to a 4.7 percent cut in funding. The "investment budget" proposes $646.7 million for community colleges, which is contingent on the state raising new revenue by $2 billion for the biennium, PCC added.
"Of deep concern is the lack of a guarantee that the state will be able to raise revenue to support the governor's proposed investment budget," the college stated. "And both budget scenarios are significantly lower than the level being requested by the Oregon Community College Association's (OCCA) Board of Directors, in partnership with the Higher Education Coordinating Commission."
OCCA's executive director, Cam Preus, said the funding would be devastating to students across the state.
"While the 'Investment Budget' puts colleges on a solid footing and invests in expanding Career and Technical programs, the 'Base Budget' funding level would be devastating to Oregon's Community colleges and the Oregonians we serve," Preus stated in a news release. "Colleges would have no choice but to make deep program cuts along with double-digit tuition increases."
Mt. Hood Community College issued a similar statement regarding the effects these proposed budgets would have on its students.
"This cut will ultimately affect our students most of all," MHCC President Lisa Skari said. "By raising tuition, students will suffer. In turn, they'll lose access to affordable education and to opportunities for career development."
Brown's ideas now face the legislative gauntlet and certain modification before the new budget cycle starts next July. Part of that process will be finding the money to make such a large investment in education.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
Subscribe to our E-News and get the week's top stories in your inbox
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It can cost as little as 3 cents a day.)