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ALERT: Republicans Vote Down $5.4 billion for K-12 Public Schools…Again!

Marynolan_1What turned into an animated parliamentary dance began as a simple and vital motion to bring a trend to fully funding our public schools. Unbelievably, the Republicans have once again denied our children the necessary funds for an adequate education. Indeed, they refused to allow a debate about the level of funding for public schools.

House Bill 2727, a bill relating to school finance and appropriating money, was the vehicle for an intensive maneuvering through House Rules and parliamentary procedure. Originally intended to limit schools from spending state funds to provide free breakfast and lunch programs, this bill was turned inside out to instead call for a “survival budget” for public K-12 schools. The adoption of the minority report would have changed HB 2727 for the better. It would have:

• Appropriated a minimum of $5.1 billion for the Department of Education out of the General Fund for the State School Fund
• These funds would be in addition to and not in lieu of the near $300.0 million from Lottery receipts

That’s right, friends – do the math! House Democrats have found a way to provide at least $5.4 billion for our K-12 public schools!

In addition to this more acceptable level of funding, House D’s were able to identify spending limits that created the transparency and accountability that voters, parents, teachers and students deserve. But our voices were silenced.

Neighbors, this flagrant and repeated refusal of the Republicans to fund our public K-12 schools is a travesty! What is even further infuriating was the fact that debate on this bill was shut down by the House Republicans’ very own “nuclear option.” When our proposal came up on the agenda, the Republican majority employed a never-before-used parliamentary tactic. The motion was to postpone the vote and make it a Special Order of Business…on August 31st. Yes, August 31st. Neither legislators nor the public expects – or desires – the legislature to be in session at the end of August.

This motion was met with a phenomenal parliamentary response from my Democratic colleagues. One by one they rose on the floor with points of order, counter-motions, and deeply compelling speeches, full of conviction, about the great need to fund our schools at decent levels and show our kids that they matter!

Rep. Steve March (D- Portland) spoke for us all when he said, “It’s irresponsible to hold back a big surplus when school children throughout Oregon must do without the programs and …[some] have decried the power of unions or business groups, or parent-teacher organizations. I say, if you don’t like the way these groups lobby or spend money, or the way local school boards spend money, you should draft legislation to deal with that. But for heaven’s sake, let’s not shatter the future of Oregon’s school children just for the sake of sending a message to the teachers’ unions, or parents, or school boards.”

Republicans are sending a clear message: forget about quality schools – they won’t even allow a debate about it.

May 24, 2005 by Mary Nolan
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Permalink: ALERT: Republicans Vote Down $5.4 billion for K-12 Public Schools…Again!


Okay, here's the math: 5.1 billion plus 3.0 million equals 5.103 billion.

5.1 billion plus 300 million equals 5.4 billion.

So, on the face of it, this post does not add up.

Posted by: Michael Meo | May 25, 2005 6:01:26 AM

Thanks for pointing this error out. The typo has been corrected.

Posted by: Staff | May 25, 2005 9:20:50 AM

Cut the hyperbole Mary!

The Republicans and Democrats are 6% apart on what they propose to spend on public schools.

That is hardly a "denial of adequate funds" as you claim.

Posted by: gus | May 25, 2005 10:28:30 AM

Gus, two things:
1: schools are underfunded in Oregon and failing in many measurable ways. $5.4 billion is not really much of a boost from previous budgets, when taking into acount rising costs related to operating a building with heat, lights, and transportation to get students to and from.
2: the Oregon Public School enrollment # is 552,144 (from that pinko bastion of liberal extremism, the Heritage Foundation). 6% of that is 33,128 students.

At a $7,621 per student expenditure rate, that $300,000,000 actually represents 39,364 students. Again, Heritage Foundation numbers. More accurate than the Lars-touted $10K+/pupil figure we always hear shouted from the right side of the room.

You may be content to write this off as a slim margin, but I think it speaks volumes about the general attitude we seem to see in recent history about funding our schools. 33 to 39 THOUSAND kids worth of funding. When we are already flirting with mediocrity. And Mary is guilty of hyperbole?

Posted by: John Doty | May 25, 2005 1:11:43 PM

When will Oregon adopt a sales tax & phase out (or minimize) the Income Tax? Oregon seems to miss out on such vital tourism dollars that could fill the education gap. Will the voters ever approve such a measure?

Posted by: Joe Rodgers | May 25, 2005 1:22:05 PM


Great to see the post from John Doty, a very articulate Democratic leader-- and a passionate teacher of kids on the edge--from Jackson County. Go, John, go.

Posted by: Rep. Peter Buckley | May 25, 2005 2:58:30 PM

John Doty:

You get the prize for verbosity and Mary keeps the prize for hyperbole.

All your spoutation of disconnected Heritage Foundation numbers amounts to little. And 6% of your $7,621 annual spending number amounts to a difference of about 450 dollars. So What?

Posted by: gus | May 25, 2005 5:29:04 PM

So Gus, you have seem to have found the middle ground between verbosity and hyperbole which is antipathy.

So what, you say, to six percent. Give us your solution of where we should cut. It seems so easy for our opponents to take from the mouths of babes instead of proposing concrete solutions.

And when solutions are put on the table as Rep. Nolan and her fellow House Democrats have, you folks shout it out with procedural delay tactics.

Amazing. That's what.

Posted by: Moses Ross | May 25, 2005 9:21:47 PM

or $8,100 per classroom...per year

So come do my job for a few years and tell me whether it makes a difference.

there is a poster: "Teachers, nurses, firemen, cops -- we call them heroes, why do we pay them like chumps?"

If you want to live in mediocre Oregon, keep right on believing as you do - we'll get there. We're real close. Some of us are trying to prevent it. Try being part of the solution.

If you are awarding a prize for sanctimony, I want it, too.

Posted by: John Doty | May 25, 2005 9:34:53 PM

Dear Mr Doty,

I can't understand your numbers, either. If the parties are 6% apart, that's 33 thousand students. If the parties are 300 million apart, that's 39 thousand students.

Where'd the 5.4 billion go?

Posted by: Michael Meo | May 25, 2005 11:35:33 PM

Welcome to the world of blogs and putting up with the simple minded attacks. You'll learn to ignore it.

In the world of education and budgets, the Dems lack a better approach to speaking to the public. Most progressive are left wondering about the efficiency of our dollars and most conservatives are thoroughly convinced that PERS and high administrative pay is the real cause of budget shortfalls.

Mary's approach, in my opinion, doesn't have enough weight. Better phrasing would include: "educating good teachers to teach elsewhere" or telling voters where the money we raise will be used as in "committment to funding classrooms".

Until the Dems reconcile the need for more funding with voter skepticism about how that money is used, I don't see us making much headway!

Posted by: Jenson | May 26, 2005 1:42:13 AM

I guess I am looking at it as a tipping point... we are already (despite some claims to the contrary) very close to a critical collapse... there is a point at which 6% will be the straw with the hypothetical camel.

The 33 to 39 thousand is something I would consider margin of error - the total enrollment figure and the total budget figure yield different (but in the ballpark) amounts, depending on if you go with the projected shortfall in rounded dollars or in rounded whole percent. The 5.4 billion is serving a half million students, or the 5.1 billion is serving LESS or underserving all. Take your pick. I will tell you the net effect is LESS. Students who are underserved reach a poiunt where they exit the system, and then drop from say 74% served to 0% served in a a single day.

My basic thought is we are underserving already - 85%? 80%, I am not certain... but if we are going to equally distribute the additional 6% over the whole population, we will pass the tipping point for MANY of them...

And maybe that's what some want - get the bad kids out of the mix so our limited dollars only go to the kids who want to be educated. For the rest of that theory, check the May '04 voters guide for Rep Esquivel's statement.

Posted by: John Doty | May 26, 2005 8:26:58 AM

There are no simple answers - we need at least $5.4B while the QEM calls for closer to $7B. Yes, we should look at PERS and administration and have better opener language in our CBAs, and yes, teachers are paid like second class citizens (and as a side note, Portland's administrative budget is around 9%! Conservative columnist George Will recently wrote that school districts need to have student and school level spending at least at 65% of budget - PPS is close to 90%. You don't win by cutting admin here.). We have a grossly inadequate tax structure and the lack of political will among enough to make the change. We have unfunded mandates like No Child Left Behind and we are grossly underfunded in mandates such as IDEA - which especially affects Portland with larger percentage of children with special education needs (PPS special ed budget = ~$54M).

I will not be brow beaten into complacency nor the thought that it is okay to underfund our kids. That is my priority.

Posted by: Doug Wells | May 26, 2005 8:47:54 AM

Doug, I appreciate having the Portland school admin level - 9%. Statewide it is about 7% with wide variation. Very small districts have a higher percentage attributed to admin until you realize that the Superintendent may be the basketball coach and the custodian as well. Public perception? The last scientific poll I saw indicated that the general public believes schools spend about 30% on administration in Oregon. Getting the word out seems to be as important as actually doing the work of improving efficiency.

Posted by: Rep Phil Barnhart | May 26, 2005 10:14:57 AM

Thank you Mary for this post and thank you all Dems for this great new blog!

I'd like to hear the Republican excuse for failing to fund the Quality Education Model @ $7 billion. I am outraged that we are paying billions for prisons, giving away hundreds of millions in tax breaks to wealthy individuals, allowing corporations to pay just $10 and letting utilties steal our tax money....while telling kids sorry, we just can't afford to provide you with a full school year and reasonable class sizes.

Posted by: Ruth Adkins | May 26, 2005 9:22:23 PM

Recently in the PPS school board election race, several candidates stated that they would save money by completely cutting the PR budget. Thank goodness they lost - how short sited. We need to do more spreading the word about the quality work that is done and the positive impact that public schools have on our, and our communities' lives.

I may be simple, but it doesn't seem like rocket science to me.

Posted by: Doug Wells | May 26, 2005 10:26:04 PM

House Republicans say their budget is responsible and sustainable, seeming to assume that we've already forgotten what's been stolen from our children under their leadership. Opportunity for children has been stripped away teacher by teacher, book by book, child by child since the 1990s. Kindergartens with 30 kids, high schools that can’t offer math all year, and middle schools threatened by fire marshals for overcrowding are not hallmarks of a quality public education. Yet, this is the reality in Oregon's public schools today.

Call me crazy, but I can't find anything responsible or sustainable about this plan.

While the difference may seem small, that $450 per student Gus talked about translates to about $2.5 million for the Corvallis School District. That is the equivalent of 5.5 school days, or 8 fewer students in our elementary school classes.

Meeting our obligation to Oregon’s children will require a significant reinvestment in our public schools. To make this happen, Oregonians must step up to the plate and demand fair and progressive tax reform efforts that increase resources for our children, our most vulnerable citizens and our environment. This will never happen under Republican leadership. We must put Democrats back in the majority if we want to see quality schools for our kids.

I made an online contribution to Future Pac tonight because I'm so angry about what the Republicans are taking from our kids. I hope other readers who care about quality schools will do the same.

The donation website is https://www.c-esystems.com/futurepac/donate/contribute.html

Posted by: Sara Gelser | May 28, 2005 10:32:58 PM


Some good news for you. The House passed a bill Thursday adding 120 million to school funding. They are now funding public schools at 5.22 billion from the general fund. That is over 6% higher than the 4.9 billion that was allocated for the current biennium.

To the 5.22 billion, add property taxes retained by the districts; (+2.5 billion) and you are up to
7.72 billion. On top of that there are local option and other monies, federal, state and private grants which leaves Oregon public schools better off than many like to admit.

Meanwhile Head Start continues to turn away 50% of eligible at-risk preschoolers many of whom eventually start kindergarten behind the eight ball and stay there till they drop out.

Posted by: gus | May 29, 2005 1:01:42 PM

Rep. Barnhart,

The admin. salary question is not just about percentage.

In Salem-Keizer, we have had district management who are poster children for some sort of oversight if the state continues to provide so much school support.
From Sen. Walker's investigations of why complaints about that band teacher now in jail were not heeded sooner, to that incident where the district management suddenly proposed cutting elementary music but apparently even the citizen budget committee did not know the size of the reserves (that secretive bunch will now have to deal with 4 new board members promising open proceedings), something is wrong.

After all these years of politicians wanting to be involved in the details of teacher work lives (look at the Patridge bill last session wanting state law to say what subjects could be topics of collective bargaining) it is time to shine the light and microscope on administrative salaries.

In a short conversation in a grocery store parking lot the other day, one of those new board members said something along the lines of "for the amount of money we pay a superintendent, we could afford...".

I think that is what some people are looking for--not the % paid on administration. What is wrong with an examination of the salary and job description/performance of the supt. and maybe 3 or 5 of the next highest ranking central district managers? Too hot a topic? Too much work?

Yes, in a rural district the Supt. may wear many hats. But in larger districts there may be 3 people with various personnel duties. What would be wrong with looking at the job descriptions of such people and whether job performance is worth the salary?

For that matter, why are there out of state administrators? Is it a prestige thing? Or aren't there enough qualified professionals in Oregon? Why is it better to find someone from outside Oregon (as I recall Salem's Kay Baker was)? What is the benefit?

And if there are not enough qualified Oregonians, why not? Is it a training problem? Do the best Oregonians leave the state?

For that matter, why has there never been a publicized examination of the top public earners in Oregon? How many non-elected people in state government make more than the Governor? Are they university presidents? Agency heads?

And for that matter, would salaries and job descriptions of those on legislative leadership office payroll stand the light of day in a large newspaper article? What is the size of caucus and presiding officer staffs during session and during interim? Are these people required to be as courteous and well-informed as sales/customer service people in the private sector? Is there anyone on a legislative leadership payroll who makes more than the Governor per month (regardless of whether it is a session-only or full time position)?
Or is the W.Week "Good Bad Ugly" story each session about as much oversight as the legislative branch is likely to see?

This whole "5.4 or not 5.4" argument strikes me as a debate over "a number" instead of how the money is spent. Are there powerful people who would rather just debate numbers and not delve into how the money is spent?

Posted by: LT | May 30, 2005 12:05:42 AM

As a member of Portland's citizen budget review committee, I see much of how the money is spent. I am pleased with the level of detail that I have seen and that is available to the public, and my understanding is that there is more transparency in the budget than there has been for many years. Vicki Phillips and the PPS school board are by no means perfect, and they are doing an excellent job of running this large urban school district with inadequate funding.

Yes, I believe it is inadequate. Yes, it is about getting to $5.4B and above. If we believe, as I do, that our funding for K-12 education is inadequate, then we must, we must restructure our revenue streams to compensate. No more sacred cows. Everything should be on the table. Sales tax. Property tax. Income tax. You name it.

As for salaries of district officials - is seems to me quite preposterous to go down that road. Vicki Phillips is the CEO of an organization with more than 5,000 employees and 45,000 kids. My understanding is that she makes about $200K/year and she is considered by many to be one of the premier urban superintendents in the country. Compare that to salaries in the private sector for CEOs of similar sized organizations - it's not even in the same realm. Why in the world would we, as a society, place so much more value on someone who makes profit (or loses money) for a company over someone who has responsibility for educating our kids? That is just beyond me. I'm not looking to fight that battle, but it seems absurd.

In my opinion, we must raise our voices for adequate funding and not get mired in minutiae. Yes, pay attention to the details, but don't miss the forest for the trees.

Posted by: Doug Wells | Jun 1, 2005 11:43:22 AM

LT raises some excellent questions. Please note, LT, that I said perception is as important as efficiency. I did not say it was more important, or that efficiency is not important. Schools must do their jobs well, and must be seen to do their jobs well.

Most of the answers you seek are in the public record. For example, each district’s number of personnel administrators and their incomes is public information. The Superintendent's salary is in the budget posted at the Department of Education's web site. If you think it is too high, tell your school board that you believe that.

You ask a lot of "Why shouldn't we examine..." questions and the answer is: “in most cases, we have already done so many times, but we should always continue to do so.” I often tell Oregonians to get familiar with their own school district's budget, staffing, curriculum and policies. Go to budget committee and board meetings and ask questions or make comments. All of their information is public, and lots of it is easy to find at www.ode.state.or.us, the Oregon Department of Education's web site. After you take a look, give us some suggestions about how ODE can present it more clearly, if that would be of help to you.

The reality is that most of the information you suggest should be discovered is available now. All well run school districts have adopted board policies and job descriptions for their administrators. Each Board conducts an annual review of its superintendent, and those reviews should be public information.

The top earners in state government are regularly reviewed by the press. I saw a list of them with their salaries in the Oregonian or the Register-Guard within the last year, along with a reasonably accurate commentary from the reporter who compiled the information. Repeating that study would take a few hours and some phone calls, but it could easily be done.

It is a fact that there are not enough well qualified Oregonians to fill the available Superintendent and Principal positions. This problem has been getting worse for the last decade or so, and is exacerbated by scarce resources and salaries that we currently allocate to K-12 education. A good superintendent or principal sets the tone and policies that lead to good outcomes for students. Poor ones can make work harder for even the best teachers. One of my interns this year was a part-time school administrator and law student, who decided to pursue a career in law after he was forced to cut his own salary two years in a row to balance his school’s budget.

I suspect you would also be surprised at how low legislative salaries are, and I wish they were better publicized. I visited a high school class in my district, and the students guessed that my legislative salary was over $10,000 per month. They were shocked to discover that the real number is $1,283 per month. Our legislative and caucus staffs make similar amounts as we do.

Most information about the Legislature is public. Reporters ask constantly for release of information. The reason you don't often hear about it is that they don't often turn up anything interesting. My performance is reviewed every two years, in a very public way, at election time.

LT, you are right that the debate should not be about 5.4 or any other number. The real debate, which gets reduced to a number, is whether or not the legislature is going to force another cut in school days or increase in class sizes. That number 5.4 is the rough estimate of the amount needed for most of our students to avoid additional cuts beyond those of the last decade. Even that amount will leave some districts short, but the amount passed by the House majority party will lead to cuts for almost all students.

We are constantly looking at how taxpayer dollars are spent. When we reduce costs we free up dollars to spend on the programs that Oregonians really need. Similarly, a good superintendent and a good school board will do everything they can to reduce costs in order to direct money where it is really needed. All the good ones care deeply about their students and do the best they can with scarce resources.

Posted by: Rep. Phil Barnhart | Jun 1, 2005 3:54:28 PM

Thank you, Representative Barnhart, for an excellent post.

Posted by: Michael Meo | Jun 1, 2005 8:41:32 PM

Thank you, Representative Barnhart, for an excellent post.

Posted by: Michael Meo | Jun 1, 2005 8:42:39 PM

Legislators "Posts" are toooooooo long. zzzzzz

Some legislators don't WHINE re: $1283/mo since they're retired (law profs-school admins) already on PERS.

Teach unions care first/foremost for their clients. The kids come 2nd.

Posted by: brevityohyeah | Jun 4, 2005 3:04:37 PM

Questions for Brevity:

Can it be that there are teachers who really care about their students and are not 100% in agreement with OEA actions, or do you believe that impossible?

Describe your most recent visit to a school.

Posted by: Former sub | Jun 4, 2005 9:50:07 PM

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