By Dan Lucas,
Researcher and House candidate,
In the wake of Governor Kulongoski’s May 25th budget cut announcement, school districts across Oregon are again facing more budget cuts – cuts they shouldn’t have to be making. Remember in early 2009, when we were all hearing that as a result of the economic downturn the Legislature was facing huge budget cuts, and our public schools were on the chopping block? That hit very close to home for us because our daughter was a second year public school teacher and she was very worried that she would be getting a pink slip. Later in the year, Oregonians were told that if they didn’t vote YES on Measures 66 and 67, they’d be hurting our schools. Voters were told that the budget shortfall could only be overcome by raising taxes on businesses and “the rich.”
What a surprise to find out, then, that the 2009 Legislature chose to cut $150 million from K-12 schools and to give that money to the Department of Human Services (DHS), even before Measures 66 and 67. It’s Oregon’s dirty little budget secret. The Legislature cut school funding and they didn’t need to. They’ll tell you they needed to increase the DHS budget to handle more demand for unemployment and food stamps due to the economic downturn. That sounds plausible, but it’s not true. Unemployment is paid by the Employment Department and not DHS, and the Employment Department’s budget was actually cut. Further, the money for the food stamps is actually from the Federal government; it’s only the administration of the food stamps that’s paid for with state dollars.
Budget documents from the state’s Legislative Fiscal Office reveal that when faced with $220 million in budget declines, the Legislature made the decision to cut the budgets of 35 state agencies & boards by $670 million (including the State K-12 School Fund and the Employment Department), and to increase the budgets of 20 other state agencies & boards by $450 million (including DHS, OPB and the State Library). The DHS budget alone grew by $330 million.
For DHS, the budget was increased for every one of their six divisions, and only one of those divisions processes food stamps. DHS added 1,300 new full-time jobs – the same number of jobs that are in the entire Department of Oregon State Police! (The total number of jobs in the State Police includes troopers, dispatchers, investigators, forensic & medical examiners, the Fish & Wildlife division, the State Fire Marshal’s office, etc.)
An alternative (the Back To Basics budget) was proposed and it had no cuts to K-12 school funding, but it was rejected by the Democratic supermajority.
Given that the Democratic supermajority chose to cut $150 million from K-12 schools, it’s small wonder that even with the passage of Measures 66 and 67, Oregon school districts are still having to make painful cuts. The Governor’s recent proposed budget cuts will wipe out an additional $200 million of contingency funding that was going to go to K-12 schools. This will raise the amount cut from the K-12 State School Fund from $150 to $350 million – still easily covered by the $450 million that the Legislature grew 20 other state agencies and boards with.
Oregon’s dirty little budget secret is hurting our schools, hurting teachers and hurting our children’s futures.