Legislative Report - November Interim
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By Anne Nesse
As the Portland teachers strike continues over wages and working conditions, it is important to note that Oregon has failed to invest what is required for an equity-based public school system, for a number of years. An Oregon Quality Education Model Commission Report helps explain how we divide the funds between schools: scroll to the Summary for a shortened report. This is an unfortunate fact and it is true in all parts of the country. This is perhaps why a number of Oregon teachers are questioning their profession.
House Education met Nov. 6. Rep. Jami Cate, House District 11, was a leader in the discussion on ‘Accountability’, stating she realized that complete ‘equity’ for funding public education could not be established all at once. She announced that In the coming legislative sessions, we will re-evaluate the 11% cap on funds allowed for special education and numbers of homelessness students, among other criteria. One group of slides shown by Kevin Strong, Business Manager Sweet Home School District, illustrates the difficulties we currently face with the 11% cap on special needs and achieving greater equity in public education. These statistics help to demonstrate that disparities are large, among schools and school districts. Once the 11% cap is reached, funds must be taken from other school services to meet the growing demands for those students who are falling behind more than 2 grade levels in performance.
Meghan Moyer, Disability Rights Oregon, pointed out that this Federal classification for disabilities was not possible to be “over claimed” by individual school districts. Bob Estabrook, Oregon School Employees Association, reminded us that initially the Federal Government was supposed to fund the educational care of those who are classified as disabled. However, he stated that Federal funds have ‘never even come close to what we need’, and that we receive only 18% of the cost funding needed. He emphasized that ‘the current model is essentially unsustainable.’ The end result is that students who are behind in grade level performance for other reasons do not get the attention they may need. Several proposals will be forthcoming, including 3 tiers of the severity of disabilities or IEP, and adding a 1/2 ‘weight’ for homelessness.
Charlene Williams, the newly approved Oregon Department of Education Director for the ODE, introduced herself to both the House and Senate Education Committees, stating her priorities and goals. Here, in relation to these goals, is an added history of Oregon school funding which has unfortunately helped to create inequities in public education, based on property tax rules in Ballot Measures 5, 47, and 50. And for further history, the Student Success Act of 2019, was passed by the legislature to help add funds to decrease inequities.
Senate Education met Nov. 7 (video). Summer learning programs were minimally funded this year, due to decreased Federal funds. We know these programs help to prevent academic losses during the summer and try to bring joy to learning. During the meeting, we were reminded that planning for these programs must begin early for them to occur at all.
The agenda also included a report on the SB 1522 project implementation based on designing online classes for inmates within the Oregon Dept. of Corrections, to receive High School diplomas, or other classes. This includes PSU and Treasure Valley CC presently, offering classes at Coffee Creek women’s facility and Ontario men’s facility.
Finally, this committee heard from the newly appointed Teacher Standards and Practice (TSPC) Director, Melissa Goff and others on the creation of pilot programs to certify new teachers in “mentorship programs”. These kinds of programs are happening across the country to assure we have a dedicated supply of educators. It was unclear from the meeting whether these mentorship candidates were already college graduates. There may soon be Federal support for this program in Oregon. The program is meant to curb the high dropout rate of teachers in the first 2 years of employment, increase the diversity of teachers in Oregon, and increase the number of special education or other needed professionals.
By Katie Riley
Both the House and Senate Education Committees held hearings during November Legislative Days. Both meetings were reports from ODE, including work on crisis training and de-escalation for employees, PELL grants, teacher apprentice pilot programs, and ODE’s efforts to provide accountability and transparency. Tenneal Wetherell, ODE Chief of Staff, reported to the Senate Committee on summer learning. She noted that there is a group plan for a bill that would provide funding for summer and afterschool learning, approximately $50 million for the biennium. Funding for summer programs alone totaled $390 million in 2021 and 2022. Senator Dembrow noted that Rep. Susan McLain will probably be the bill sponsor.
School Funding and Accountability
By Jean Pierce
Revenue Committee Bills
Six revenue bills will be in the request submitted Thursday for consideration during the short session. The primary one for LWVOR to track regards a Constitutional change for voters to consider in the November Election. Currently assuming no changes are made to a property, its maximum assessed value equals 103 percent of the property’s assessed value from the prior year or 100 percent of the property’s maximum assessed value from the prior year, whichever is greater. The goal of the Senators proposing this bill is to try to avoid winners and losers.
Explanation of the State School Funding formula
The State School Fund is a combination of state and local funds, which provides about 80% of the general operating dollars to K-12 school districts and educational service districts. These funds are allocated through an equalization formula adopted in 1991. Approximately 80% of the SSF is for salaries and benefits. The next largest amount is for transportation. Attempts to provide equalization, adequacy, and equity among districts is addressed in the remaining funds (18% of the funding formula), which are allocated based on attendance (average daily membership) as well as weights allocated to the number of students classified as:
· English Language Learning (ELL)
· Special Education (up to 11% of the students holding Individual Educational Plans)
· Pregnant and parenting
· Foster Care, neglected, delinquent
· Remote Elementary School
· Small High School
· Post graduate scholarship (money is deducted based on those only receiving college education)
These funds are not tied to an outcomes-based system of accountability.
Currently, an average 14.3% of K-12 students require special education, and some districts experience as high as 50%. In fact, the state school fund is generating only 2/3 of the funds needed for special education. Districts exceeding 11% must pull resources from ELL and other programs that are not mandated. This is particularly a problem for smaller districts which tend to have higher percentages of students needing special education and fewer resources available.
Superintendents report that there is very little discretionary money available to districts.
Educational inflation is higher than other inflation indices. While the amount of state school funding has more than doubled since 1990, it has remained fairly constant in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1994.
Accountability of school districts for spending
Speakers from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) reported to the House Education Committee, that they are developing a map of Oregon’s K-12 education accountability ecosystem, and this work should be completed by January of 2024. This information will be used in a conversation over the next 6-9 months about accountability and support needed by schools and districts for the system. ODE identified 16 elements of accountability and noted that only 5 of them were highly rated for transparency and access. Financial management and reporting earned only 2 out of 5 stars for transparency and access.
By Jean Pierce
Effects of University of Oregon decision on Oregon State University
LWVOR believes that
· cooperation and coordination should be emphasized by all Oregon public postsecondary education institutions and governing boards
· the performance of independent boards at each institution of higher education should be monitored to ensure that they are responsive to the institution’s needs and the needs of the state as a whole.
The House Higher Education Committee heard testimony that the decision of the University of Oregon to withdraw from the Pac 12 had not been discussed with Oregon State University and is causing significant harm to OSU, which stands to make $43 M less in fiscal year ’25 than in ‘24. OSU leadership made the following recommendations:
· There is a need to define how to make the best decisions for university boards and the state
· It is critical that institutions consult affected parties when a decision might adversely affect another public university.
· If entities cannot come to agreement, there is a need for a mechanism for mediation.
· At the same time, there is a need to preserve the independent governing structures of the universities.
At the same time, OSU is requesting more financial support from the state:
· Increasing sports lottery allocations by 1%
· Funds to cover revenue loss and increased costs incurred during COVID (these were to be repaid from athletics revenue)
State Funding of Financial Aid for Students
By Jean Pierce
The Oregon Opportunity Grant
The Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG) changed the funding formula and increased funding for low income students. The following chart shows the changes. Cost of attendance includes tuition plus room and board and other expenses.
When OOG grants are combined with Pell Grants, currently these funds are covering 45% of the costs of attending community colleges and 48% of the costs of attending 4-year universities.
OOG grants are awarded to students attending qualifying not for profit private schools in Oregon, such as Willamette University, but those students receive the same amount as students in 4-year public schools.
Previously, students needed to apply for the grants in February, which disproportionately affected Community College students who did not enroll in the fall semester. The deadline was changed to mid-summer, but it is not possible to accept students year-round unless there is a change in the way that grants are funded by the state.
College Possible and the Oregon TRIO Association
The House Higher Education Committee will submit a policy bill requesting continuing support for grant programs supporting College Possible and the Oregon TRIO Association. College Possible serves 1600 low-income, first-generation students each year, 80% of whom attend college in Oregon. A majority of their students are people of color.
The Oregon TRIO Association promotes educational equity and access for under-represented students applying for federally-funded college grants. They provide tutoring, counseling, mentoring, financial guidance, and other support. They also provide training for directors and staff running federal grants.