Rep. Richardson: Oregon Education—Costs & Comparisons

Recently, the southern Oregon delegation of Stand For Children’s held a teleconference with me. The only issue discussed was a plea for more money, and the conversation cooled when I said my support for education should not solely be defined by how much additional money I am willing to promise to spend on education. In other words, improving Oregon’s educational system is more than joining a bidding war of elected officials. Inquiry should also be made into how the money will be spent, and whether those expenditures will promote better educational outcomes for Oregon students.

Funding education in Oregon is a complex subject. State funding for kindergarten through 12th Grade involves local and federal revenue streams with expenditures controlled by state agencies, 198 separate school districts and 20 Education Service Districts (ESD’s). Currently, it is difficult to obtain accurate and complete revenue and expenditure figures. It’s even harder to correlate those figures with successful educational performance outcomes. Nevertheless, as a father of one son and eight daughters, I know the value of a good public education, and as described in a previous newsletter I have grave concerns about American students’ inability to compete in the global economy of the 21st century. To get a better perspective of the state of Oregon education let’s consider just two components””cost and comparisons.

As a State Representative I represent not only my district, but all Oregonians. I approach that representation the same way I approach important legal issues for clients in my law practice. I first seek to understand the issue; I then research the issue as thoroughly as possible, given time and other constraints, and look for information, comparable situations, benchmarks and precedents to help determine best possible outcomes. The same process can be applied to Oregon education.

The total 2007-09 Governor’s Recommended Budget (GRB) for Education (pre-kindergarten —university) is $13.6 billion in total funds, This $13.6 billion is funded by State, Local, Federal and other revenue streams, and it includes $56 million in debt payments on $277 million of long-term debt incurred between 1997 and 2001.

The State’s portion of the total bill for education in Oregon includes $8.1 billion of General Funds and Lottery Funds (GF). The eight billion education price tag is 16.4% higher than the current 2005-07 budget, and will consume 63.6% of the entire 2007-09 GF budget. Of the $8.1 billion GF budget for Oregon education, $6.06 billion is for K-12. At $6.06 billion K-12 is receiving $250 million more than would be needed to maintain the current service level (CSL). For greater detail on funding Oregon Education, click onto the Legislative Revenues Office’s 2007 Research Report #1-07.

One way to get a perspective of where Oregon ranks on K-12 education is to compare Oregon to other western states””especially Washington. The linked comparison from SchoolMatters, a service of Standard & Poor’s, is quite revealing. Focusing just on a few Oregon and Washington comparables and we see Washington spends less per student, yet Washington students outperform Oregon students in all categories””4th and 10th grade Reading & Math, and both SAT and ACT scores. To be sure, Oregon and Washington are both doing well when compared to many other states, but we can do better, and for the sake of our children, we must do better.

Unfortunately, in every legislative session we go through the same routine. The Governor proposes a budget number, and then the Legislature raises the ante. Next, a bidding war is staged to show the education lobby which party and which caucus loves education the most. Finally, a compromise is reached as the last major budget issue, so the session can end and everyone go home. Such nonsense must stop. If we really value education, the legislature should fund it first and not last. To this end I am again sponsoring in the House, Senator Jason Atkinson’s 2005 bill which requires the Legislature to fund the Education budget in the first 81 days of every session. On a second front, our children’s education must stop being a political football and start being a top priority for each legislative session. It is time for the Legislature to re-evaluate Oregon’s system for delivering education. We have an antiquated model that no longer can compete in a global system. Oregon and America has fallen behind dozens of other states and nations, and we must stop this race to the bottom. To this end, I am co-sponsoring a bill with Senator Gary George that creates a taskforce on education reform. It is time we evaluate how we provide education in Oregon and not merely join the mantra that all we need is more money for more education, and not better education.

In closing, I have linked the Oregonian Editorial of Karen Starchvick who led the discussion with Stand For Children’s southern Oregonian delegation mentioned above. She makes a heartfelt plea for Oregon to rise to the educational levels attained by Indiana. With a little research I also found a comparison of Oregon’s expenditures to those of Indiana’s. Oregon’s spends far more money per student than Indiana. Oregon’s teacher’s pay far exceeds Indiana’s, and more of Indiana’s resources go to the classrooms and not to retirement and benefit plans. I am not saying Indiana is doing better in educating their children, than Oregon does””it was not my editorial””I am merely pointing out that although money is an important component of a good education, whenever costs are discussed we should also obtain and analyze the comparisons.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative