K-12 Budget: Why I voted 'No'

By Representative Jules Bailey (HD-42). Editor's note: Bailey voted against the K-12 budget passed by the Oregon House last week. For an another view, read the guest column by Rep. Michael Dembrow.

Last Wednesday, the House gave final approval to an education budget that provides $5.7 billion in funding to public schools. Some legislators and pundits argued that this budget was the best we could do for schools, and that we had no choice but to pass it. But we do have a choice, and we can do better. That’s why I voted against the education budget.

Portland Public Schools estimates that even after making staffing and administrative changes to save money, the current budget represents 21 days of lost class time. I cannot support a budget that could mean almost a month of lost school days for kids in my district. This budget is unacceptable when there is $444 million left in reserve funds.

With the economy hurting, now is the time to use as much of the Education Stability Fund as we can. This is the situation for which the legislature created it. We could still take out another $100 million and have sufficient money left for an additional crisis later in the biennium.

That’s why I’ve co-sponsored a bill, with many other House Democrats and led by Reps. Hoyle and Doherty, to take more money out of the Education Stability Fund for the full spectrum of education. We will need all hands on deck to pass this bill.

Education is an investment that pays off now and in the future. Disinvestment in education and lost school days hurt Oregon in many ways. Lost school days not only shortchange our children, they also force parents to take more time off work, and cost us valuable jobs in our schools. And they hurt Oregon’s economy right when we need jobs.

I recently asked a vice-president of a major clean energy firm what we could do to attract more businesses to Oregon. He told me that companies don’t want to locate in Oregon when their employees don’t want to put their kids in our school system. Driving home that point, on Tuesday, Renee James, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s software and services group, told the Portland Business Alliance that for Intel and other businesses to succeed, Oregon needs to make better investments at all levels of education, starting with our public schools.

Investing in education not only means creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, it also means bringing good jobs to Oregon right now. If we won’t invest in our schools, businesses won’t invest in us.

It’s true we’ve raised the floor on education funding. But our children are watching. And this budget is a poor platform for them to reach their dreams.

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    It's interesting to see Jules' and my messages placed in juxtaposition to one another, suggesting that we are on opposite sides of the K-12 budget issue. Our votes were different, but our messages are the same. Jules is right on target in everything he says about why sending more money to schools is a smart investment. The K-12 budget that we passed is inadequate and will require that local school budgets, which have already been cut to the bone, will need to be slashed further. We need to keep fighting to get more money to schools, at the same time that we need to get more money to colleges, universities, and human services. That's why he and I both signed on to the bills to take more money out of the reserves as soon as we can. You'll be hearing more about them over the next few weeks, and I hope that Blue Oregon readers will flood their representatives with messages of support.

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      Yet in your post you stated "But I don’t believe that we are at the point yet where we can spend more from the reserves." and here you are saying "That's why he and I both signed on to the bills to take more money out of the reserves as soon as we can."

      Which is it?

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    I have problems with any level of funding for the existing educational system. It’s outdated and second-rate, and not just for lack of adequate funding. At no additional costs it could be sending high school students to study abroad. It’s not. It could be, like Utah, mainstreaming foreign language immersion programs (especially more Mandarin). It’s not. It could have online learning opportunities that expand student learning options, reduce costs, and provide a platform for a proficiency based educational system. It doesn’t. The legislature could be implementing such changes and more. It’s not. It can’t even find $30,000 for a pilot program to send five Oregon high school students to China for the school year 2012-13. So exactly why should any, or more, of my state or local tax dollars go for this educational system. Why shouldn’t I hold out for something better?

    Yes, of course, we need to invest much more in education. But show me the changes first!

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      Your first sentence makes you close to a crank, I fear. I hate to say that because your substantive ideas are interesting at minimum, some probably important. But if allying with you to advocate things means having to advocate defunding schools as you do here or scapegoating teachers' unions as you do elsewhere, you make the choice much harder for people who might be otherwise be your allies.

      I am not sure what you mean by "mainstreaming language immersion programs" at a state level. I live close to the Woodstock school in Portland which has a Mandarin immersion program -- does PPS creation of that and some other immersion programs count as "mainstreaming" for the city? These aren't rhetorical questions, I really am not sure what you mean.

      Does Oregon have any statewide K-12 curricular policies comparable to what you seek? If a change in overall state-local curricular policies would be needed, attacking the budget should be a distraction in your eyes.

      Your views of online learning seem to me Panglossian. There are some real drawbacks and trade-offs, especially when it comes to demonstrating "proficiency" in different subjects. I am also leery of your cost savings given your unwarranted demonization of teachers. As a former regular and adjunct college/university professor I am wary of the potential for exploitation. Grade level also matters. On the other hand there could be some real benefits potentially either for smaller school systems or even for maintaining smaller face-to-face schools in a district like Portland while making wide curricular opportunities available, as opposed to the choice PPS made last year about closing smaller high schools to maintain curricular breadth at the remaining large ones?

      Can Mandarin be offered effectively online, btw?

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    Sorry if I was unclear; this is not an either/or. The operative phrase is "as soon as we can." What I meant was that we should dip further into the reserves as soon as we can do so with confidence that the reserves won't be needed just to get us through the current economic downturn. In May we'll be getting our next revenue forecast from the state economist. It's the big one, the one that's generally used in order to build the next biennial budget.

    We're hoping that the forecast will show positive signs that we can safely take additional money from the Education Stability Fund and the Rainy Day Fund for education and other needed services, as the two bills call for. I believe that it would be premature to do so before the forecast but am hoping that we can do so before this legislative session comes to an end in June. That's what I meant by "as soon as we can."

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    For a Republican-controlled Legislature that voted to increase taxes and fees by $2 billion two years ago, the bipartisan boos over Gov. Rick Scott's proposed spending cuts might not be too surprising.

    But the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing continued this morning as a panel of Senate K-12 budget writers took their turn picking apart Scott's proposal to spend 10 percent less on public school students this year.

    Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, cast doubt on Scott's suggestion to plug some of the hole with stimulus money districts were given to spend for the current school year.

    The reality no one is arguing with so far is that, with or without Scott's recommendation, lawmakers will have to plug a tax shortfall of at least $3.6 billion in the upcoming budget. Simmons has indicated that a cut to school spending is possible, if not likely.


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