Stop using schools as budget hostages

by Dan Lucas

Last month I wrote about how Oregon can stabilize K-12 school funding by reforming PERS and by making K-12 funding part of a “core fund” that gets funded first. I also wrote how the shift in the Oregon budget from education to human services has hurt the stability of K-12 funding, and how additional rainy day funds are not the answer.

Budget Hostages

The reason there is a need in the Oregon budget for a “core fund” is because without it, the programs that Oregonians care the most about will continue to be used as budget hostages. Those programs are public safety (prisons and state police), K-12 education and the key human services for Oregon’s most vulnerable.

I didn’t come up with that list – it’s the list that groups like Defend Oregon used in the Measure 66/67 campaign to push for a tax increase of $730 million. Defend Oregon is an extremely well funded PAC made up primarily of teachers’ unions, public employee unions and labor unions. Oregon voters were told that voting Yes on M66/M67 would protect schools, and yet even after M66/M67 passed, school districts around the state have continued to face painful cuts. Why is that?

A big part of the reason is that K-12 school funding was again being used as a budget hostage. Even in the budget cycle that the M66/M67 tax increases passed, K-12 funding in the budget was cut $150 million while other agencies, most notably DHS, saw an increase. DHS alone increased $330 million in that budget cycle.

There is an inherent conflict between DHS (now DHS/OHA) and K-12 funding because they are the two biggest items in the General/Lottery fund budget – the part of the budget that the Legislature has the most control of. DHS/OHA employees make up almost 1 in 3 state workers (non university system workers) in Oregon’s 80 or so state agencies, boards and commissions.

Education Committee Chair Admits Schools Are Used As Budget Hostages

At an Education Town Hall meeting in Beaverton in July 2010, the Chair of the Oregon House Education Committee admitted that schools are used as budget hostages.

When asked about the information above, “But all six [DHS] divisions had their budget increased.  All six divisions of DHS for a total of $330 million while the State School Fund was cut $150 million.  So my question is what was more important than schools that caused that huge growth in DHS?”, Education Committee Chair Rep. Sara Gelser replied “There are tremendous needs within DHS, and unfortunately within DHS you don’t have that consistent level of advocacy that you do for K-12 schools.”, and “Everyone connects to K-12 schools in some way.”

So because everyone connects to K-12 schools, they can be used to advocate for higher taxes that don’t actually end up going to K-12 schools? Taxes that go other agencies that don’t have the same “consistent level of advocacy that you do for K-12 schools”. In fact, while those other agencies grow, the K-12 funding can actually be cut.

Hence the need for a “core fund” to protect K-12 funding. We need to stop letting K-12 school funding be used as a budget hostage.

click here for a transcript of the July 2010 Education in Oregon Town Hall

click here for the audio of the July 2010 Education in Oregon Town Hall

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Posted by at 09:00 | Posted in Education, State Budget | 29 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    Kitzhaber is a bad choice as governor.  Being a doctor he is super focused on remaking his otherwise faltering Oregon Health Plan, and he appoints his own hand picked education czar to somehow bail out the remains of public education.

    And even with his super focus on health care, his coordinated care solution is already showing signs of doubt with coordinated care providers getting much less than promised initially.

    Dudley might have been slow but somehow I think he would have allowed things to sort themselves out more naturally, rather than forcing the unsupportable as in Kitzaber’s case.

  • Moe

    Schools need more money as the teachers are very, very underpaid. They should make at least as much as a trial lawyer, as what they do is very important.

  • 3H

    If we are going to make K-12 funding a “core fund” we need to keep in mind that slashing human services may be counter-productive. Teachers can only do so much. There is a strong correlation between poverty and academics success. Cutting human services to fund education is robbing Peter to pay Paul. You need to do both in order to increase the odds for educational success of our disadvantaged youth.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    When the state can give a $2,000,000 tax refund on a $3,000,000 fraudulent Turbo Tax filing, and not notice it until the woman reported the debit card missing that Oregon had put all the loot on, that’s a slight indication the state has a little bit more money than it knows what to do with.

    Will anyone be fired? No.

    As far as measure 67 goes – that was used to take money from small business in order to fund Ted’s generous raise to public employees.

    Let’s get real – when you are handing out raises in the middle of a horrible recession, taking the money from small business to do it, and handing out $2M tax refunds and not catching it until the thief essentially loses the money and asks you for it again, you don’t have a problem with lack of funds. You have a problem of priorities. And that’s putting it politely.

  • chana cox

    “Budget Hostage” is a wonderfully apt term. Thank you.

  • Mike

    Something is rotten to the core! That’s what I say.

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