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School budget front and center in Salem

Education backers say $7.25 still not sufficient

A state school fund of $7.255 billion, slightly more than was originally proposed by the Legislature’s chief budget writers, has cleared its first hurdle.

The joint budget subcommittee on education approved the school fund, which is the largest single item in the budget that comes from the tax-supported general fund and lottery proceeds.

The vote occurred March 24, with all five Democrats for it and all three Republicans against it.

The amount is about $250 million less than what some advocates, including administrators and teachers, claim is needed.

“I think it would be foolhardy to ignore our education partners,” said Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles. “All of our school districts know how to budget.”

But Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said a Republican alternative for a total of $8 billion cuts too much from other programs and is not realistic.

“We have to be responsible for an entire budget that includes a lot of different things,” said Roblan, a retired high school principal.

Democratic legislative leaders said their plan is to pursue votes in the House and Senate this week.

Schools rely on the fund for the lion’s share of their operating costs, ever since voters limited local property taxes in the 1990s.

Under the tentative budget, per-student spending for students in the Hillsboro School District would rise 8.9 percent from the 2013-14 school year to a projected $7,546 in 2016-17.

The amounts include property taxes as distributed by a funding formula, but not federal grants.

The fund is up about $20 million from the framework proposed Jan. 14 by Sen. Richard Devlin of Tualatin and Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland, Democrats who lead the joint budget committee.

But it is less than the $7.5 billion some administrators say is needed to maintain programs, or the $7.85 billion some advocates testified for earlier this month.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said lawmakers drew the extra $20 million for the fund from $60 million not yet allocated for programs such as early childhood education, high school and college completion and school-to-work programs.

Kotek added that the early vote will assure schools of a minimum amount.


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