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Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, said $8.2 billion amount would prompt layoffs, fewer school days and program cuts.

COURTESY PHOTO - Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-PortlandSALEM — An East Portland Democrat who threatened to oppose the state's education budget because it would force cuts at public schools was ousted from his seat on the Ways and Means education subcommittee during a vote on the spending plan.

Rep. Diego Hernandez's no vote would have meant defeat for the $8.2 billion biennial budget for K-12 education. When Hernandez made it clear early Thursday, June 1, that he would vote no on the education budget, other members of the subcommittee summoned Ways and Means Co-Chairwoman Nancy Nathanson to the room.

Nathanson used her authority to replace any House member of a Ways and Means subcommittee and temporarily removed Hernandez from the subcommittee. She then cast a yes vote on the budget, allowing the budget to progress to the full Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

Hernandez's decision was at odds with other Democrats on the subcommittee.

"We have reached a critical point in this session, and I am sorry but … I cannot vote for a budget that continues to cut our school funding and continues to maintain our mediocrity," said Hernandez, who also is a member of the Reynolds School Board.

He called on legislators to wait on the budget and to focus on passing corporate revenue reform before the end of session in July. A proposed commercial activity tax, for instance, could bring in additional revenue to put toward schools.

While the amount of the K-12 budget for 2017-19 is greater than what was allocated in the previous two years, the Oregon School Boards Association has said the amount will require layoffs, shorter school years and elimination of programs. Schools have increases in unavoidable costs such as employee health care, contracted salary increases and pensions and other cost hikes such as utilities, according to OSBA. Hernandez said he wants to see schools receive at least $8.4 billion to maintain existing service levels.

Some other subcommittee members who voted yes agreed that the education budget was too low but said a greater allocation could be added later, if lawmakers are successful in raising more revenue in the next several weeks.

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Lynn, who voted no on the budget, said the Legislature has consistently increased education funding for schools with few results, because much of the money goes toward pension and health care costs, rather than the classroom.

"Putting more money into education has not yielded better outcomes," Parrish said.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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