K-12 Budget: Why I Voted 'Yes'

By Representative Michael Dembrow (HD-45) of Portland. Editor's note: Dembrow voted in favor of the K-12 budget passed by the Oregon House last week. This item originally appeared in his weekly newsletter. For more info, visit RepMichaelDembrow.com. For another view, read the guest column by Rep. Jules Bailey.

As a member of the Education Subcommittee of Ways and Means, I was able to vote on the $5.7 billion K-12 budget twice, and both times I voted to support it. Preceding our vote in subcommittee, I had the opportunity to clarify my vote and put my position on the record.

I pointed out that we had heard hours of testimony in committee from students, teachers, parents, and other education advocates who pointed out to us the awful effects of this inadequate level of funding. This was testimony from which I “learned nothing, but was reminded of everything.” Were our budgetary conditions better, I would certainly be withholding my support in favor of a higher funding level. Were the symptoms of our economic recovery stronger, I would insist on taking more money out of our reserves right away (we were already taking $100 million from reserves in order to augment the Governor’s recommended budget). Were there not also tremendous need in other areas of our budget—health and human services for the poor, seniors, and people with disabilities, as well as our colleges and universities—I would have felt more comfortable reducing the reserves and giving more to K-12.

But I don’t believe that we are at the point yet where we can spend more from the reserves. The economy is looking up, but given events in Japan and in the oil-producing regions of the Middle East, continued improvement is not yet a given thing. We risk giving schools additional money, and then being forced to make them give it back midyear. We’ve had to do that repeatedly over the last two years, and it is extremely painful and disruptive for teachers, students, and their families.

This $5.7 billion number is the result of difficult bipartisan negotiations involving the House, Senate, and Governor. In the end, it was a number that made sense for this point in time, and I felt that the work of the negotiators deserved our support.

The budget leaders of both parties see the $5.7 billion as a “floor” on which to build if we get a good revenue forecast in May. In fact, two bills are being introduced today which will allow us to dip further into the reserves for education and human services and the Oregon Youth Authority if conditions allow it in May. I was the first House member to sign on to that bill as a co-sponsor, and was proud to do so. I see this as a responsible, big-picture way to approach the budget—plan for a better tomorrow while making sure that we have some safety net in place if it takes us longer to get there.

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    Although Rep. Dembrow and I voted in different ways, I think the message is the same: we need more investment in education. I have enormous respect for Michael's thoughtful work on education.

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