One week ago, the May Economic and Revenue Forecast brought some good news. Our state’s economy continues to improve, driven by new jobs and wage growth. That means the state will be able to invest another $105 million in our public K-12 classrooms. We will also be able to fill some holes in our public safety and human services budgets and save for tough times in the future.
At the end of April, however, we received some challenging budget news. The Oregon Supreme Court struck down a 2013 change to the PERS system. Whatever your thoughts on PERS or the 2013 legislation, this decision will increase the cost of operating the state’s schools and state agencies by hundreds of millions of dollars.
As a parent and legislator, one of my top goals is to strengthen Oregon’s public schools. These two recent events highlight the challenge facing education in our state.
Despite years of cuts, our state continues to struggle with inadequate school funding. Oregon’s K-12 students receive almost three weeks less instructional time than the national average. Between 2007-8 and 2013-14, public schools cut over 3,000 teachers and 1,000 instructional assistants. We lost around half of the state’s career and technical education programs. Some of our schools also have very large class sizes.
Oregon students deserve better. It’s time for us to increase school funding so Oregon students can prepare for good jobs and bright futures. To do that we need to:
- Devote a larger share of the May revenue forecast resources to K-12 education;
- Scrutinize tax credits and new spending programs and make the tough choices to not fund some new programs or ideas; and
- Look seriously at new revenue sources
Right now Oregon has the nation’s lowest corporate tax rate. If the Oregon rate was “average,” our schools, police, and safety net service providers would have the resources they need. And this year we will be sending back over $450 million in kicker revenue, mostly to high income Oregonians.
Revenue conversations are tough, but we need to think through how we can move toward stronger schools and services in the future. I look forward to having that conversation in the coming year.