State needs a budget that focuses on students
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained our state and national economies unlike any crisis in recent memory.
Last fall, prior to the pandemic, Oregon was rated as one of the best-prepared states in the country for a recession when Moody's conducted its annual stress tests on state government budgets.
Rep. Dan Rayfield
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1416
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, H-275, Salem, OR 97301
But this is no ordinary recession. It's a once-in-a-lifetime public health and economic crisis.
Despite years of smart budgeting that has left us with strong reserves, the Legislature will be facing some incredibly difficult decisions Monday, Aug. 10, when it convenes in Salem to rebalance the state budget, as is required by the Oregon Constitution.
As one of the state Legislature's lead budget writers, one of my main objectives has been to ensure that we do all we can to protect Oregon students from devastating program cuts amid the uncertainty of the pandemic and holding critical investments in public education harmless at a time of such widespread unpredictability.
The budget rebalance we have proposed ensures that the State School Fund, the major source of funding for K-12 school districts across Oregon, remains intact. The proposal also prioritizes funding from the Student Success Act for early learning programs and programs in the Statewide Education Initiatives account, including full funding to expand opportunities for young Oregonians in career and technical education.
This proposal comes as other states are slashing their own education budgets. In Arizona, for example, the governor is threatening to cut education funding for districts that don't reopen for in-person learning by Aug. 17, even as this worldwide pandemic rages on.
Now would be the worst possible time to cut education funding, which is why Oregon is taking a different approach.
This next year is so critical for our students. Gov. Kate Brown has released public health metrics for safely reopening schools for in-person instruction across the state, taking a necessarily cautious approach to keep our students and teachers safe while stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Right now, Oregon is not meeting its benchmark for in-person instruction. Many school districts across the state already have determined they will exclusively conduct distant learning until at least November.
This pandemic has highlighted many of the inequities within our society. While necessary in this moment, distance learning can worsen these disparities by harming students' educational growth. Research from less than two years ago showed 17% of teens in the country can't finish their homework because they don't have reliable internet access. Districts will require added expenses to prevent an expansion of the digital divide, which disproportionately impacts rural communities and communities of color.
As schools return to in-person education or hybrid models that combine in-person and distance learning, districts will be required to address safety and hygiene concerns, for both teachers and students, in order to prevent outbreaks and protect high-risk populations. Staffing will be needed to assist in contact tracing and accurately inform parents if an outbreak occurs. Additionally, more students likely will be relying on school meals for food given the economic impact of the pandemic on a vast number of Oregonians.
The budget proposal also preserves a strong level of reserves to help weather upcoming budget cycles when state revenue is projected to further decline due to the lasting impact of the pandemic on Oregon's economy.
The scale of this crisis highlights the critical need for further federal action to support state investments in essential services that provide safety and security for all Oregonians, including our state's most vulnerable populations.
We know COVID-19 will be among us for the foreseeable future. In the midst of these uncharted waters, we are doing all we can to ensure that our children have the support they need to succeed.
We are putting our children first.
State Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, is co-chair of the Joint Interim Committee on Ways and Means, which is charged with proposing a new budget to reflect the revenue drop due to economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. The other co-chairs are Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1717
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-213, Salem, OR, 97301
Sen. Betsy Johnson
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1716
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-209, Salem, OR, 97301
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