Rep. Richardson: Record Breaking K-12 Budget Approved

Oregon’s $6.245 Billion Kindergarten-12th grade budget for 2007-09 passed out of the Ways and Means Education Subcommittee on May 24th and will make its way to the Senate and House Floors for a vote within the next two weeks.

The $6.245 Billion K-12 budget is the largest education budget in Oregon’s history and represents a 17.7% increase over the current biennium’s $5.3 Billion K-12 budget. It represents an “Average Daily Membership” (weighted) allocation for each student of $6,579. The “weighted” formula for allocating money to schools provides for an enhanced allotment for students with special needs. For instance, schools may get 1.5 or even double the funding paid for an average student for every student who “speaks English as a second language,” or otherwise fits into special needs child classifications.

The $6.245 Billion is only the General and Lottery Fund portion of K-12’s total budget. When an additional $2.817 Billion of local (property tax) revenue is added the Total K-12 budget is $9.062 Billion. Using simple arithmetic if we divide the average actual (unweighted) daily attendance of K-12 students (534,828) into the total K-12 budget ($9.062 Billion–biennial), Oregon’s average annual cost per K-12 student is $8,472.

Anyway you calculate it, this is a large sum of money. We all agree educating our children is a top priority for Oregon families. In a prior newsletter I set forth preliminary questions I believe should be asked by every school district, PTA, parent and teacher, and I will not repeat them here. Now that we know the 2007-09 K-12 budget amount, the next question is how will it be spent? Two leaders of Oregon’s Chalkboard Project in a recent article summed it up nicely, “A record-year budget should require record-level accountability.”

I appreciate the dedicated work performed by the Chalkboard Project. If we link to their website we can see how much has been done to promote lifting Oregon’s public education system to the next level. Of particular interest is the links we find to individual school districts’ budget information. Click here to see your school district’s budget breakdown. It is worth the time to link to your own school district and see for yourself how it divides its revenues. Peeling back the onion of school district finances is an important first step to improving public confidence in our school system. Financial transparency is vital.

Mr. Jerry Hudson, a former president of Willamette University and a Chalkboard Project board member suggests the Legislature require all school districts open their business practices to a “mandatory outside review” (a euphemism for “audit”), every few years. I thoroughly agree.

In fact, both Republicans and Democrats strongly support H.B. 2613 which is Chalkboard’s suggested legislation to enhance school district financial accountability. This is important bipartisan legislation, and it can become law if the majority party allows it to come to the floor for a vote.

Every Oregon school district will now determine how they will spend their portion of the K-12 budget, including each district’s portion of the extra $260 million “School Improvement Fund.” Since spending decisions will be made at a local school district level, it is an ideal time for concerned citizens to become involved. Citizen input is needed both for spending decisions and for ensuring school district accountability. I firmly believe, in nearly all aspects of life: where performance is measured, performance improves.

A final consideration when evaluating Oregon’s K-12 budget is the issue of sustainability. The “Legislatively Approved Budget” for our current 2005-07 biennium for K-12 is $5.3 Billion ($7.9 Billion when local revenues are included). To maintain the current service level for the next two years without enhancing the number of teachers or programs would require an additional $720,600,000. In other words, nearly ¾ of a billion dollars must be added to the 2005-07 budget merely to cover K-12’s increases in student growth, PERS rate changes, health benefit increases (9% per year), COLA’s, teacher step increases in pay, turnover savings, and inflation on services and supplies.

The proposed budget for 2007-09 does much more than merely maintain our current service level. It adds $196 million to the general “State School Fund” budget, plus an additional $260 million for the School Improvement Fund. Thus, the proposed budget adds nearly ½ of a billion dollars more than would be needed to maintain the current service level. Whether we like it or not, such an increase will have an affect on future K-12 budgets. When spending levels are increased, expectations for future budgets are created. Sustaining the proposed record breaking K-12 budget in future biennia is highly improbable.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative