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More investments needed in our schools


Our top goal in the Oregon Legislature is to ensure we’re providing a first-class public education for every kid in the state. Our schools should be so good that parents and employers around the country look at our schools and decide to move here — and move their businesses and jobs here.

Great schools are the foundation for economic success. If we want Washington County to be the economic engine for the state, we need to have the best schools in the state. People should move here because our schools are clearly above the rest. Best programs, best extra-curricular activities, best teachers, smallest classes — every community in Washington County should be known as a national leader in education.

Here’s the problem: We’re still cutting our schools locally and all around the state. In Hillsboro, we’re cutting another five days of school and 28 teaching positions. This is on top of the month of school and over 230 positions cut in the last five years. To us, this is unacceptable; it limits us. There’s a ceiling to our economic growth when we keep cutting our classrooms.

And the problems aren’t just in Hillsboro. Throughout the county, school districts are making further cuts. In Tigard-Tualatin they’re cutting 15 teachers; in Sherwood they’re cutting three days and 8.5 teachers; and in Beaverton, they’re cutting four days of school.

Locally, there’s something we can do to address these cuts — and if the state, city and county work together, we can hire back teachers, save programs and maintain class sizes. It all comes down to figuring out how to share in the program called Gain Share.

Gain Share is a program that compensates local governments when they use tax breaks for companies called Strategic Investment Programs (SIPs) to entice businesses to move and expand here. Local governments give tax breaks locally, and when they create jobs the state returns 50 percent of the income taxes these jobs create. It’s a pretty good deal overall.

The problem with this system is that it cuts money for local schools. Twice. The first loss comes when local governments give tax breaks — that money doesn’t go to our schools. The second loss comes when the state money that would have gone to schools instead only goes to local governments to make up for their tax breaks. The status quo doesn’t work for our kids.

That’s why we’re proposing better sharing of the Gain Share program — where the county and city return 40 percent of Gain Share money to the schools throughout the county.

We’re making real progress, but there’s still more work to do. Last week, Washington County and the city of Hillsboro generously agreed to share 20 percent of their Gain Share funds with our schools. This was welcome news, and a great first step to filling the holes our schools are facing. This is a sign our local elected officials agree with us on a very important premise: that our schools are an essential service and are part of the foundation of our economic success. Twenty percent is great, but it’s not enough.

If we want the strong economic progress we’ve seen in Washington County to continue, we need to start investing in our schools. Those businesses we work so hard to bring to Washington County come with employees, and those employees want to see their kids well-educated.

Thanks to the county and city for making a promising first step in the direction of “no cuts” budgets for our schools. We ask that we go just one step further, and they work with the Legislature in the next session to give our schools the 40 percent of Gain Share we all need and deserve.

State Reps. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) and Joe Gallegos

(D-Hillsboro) represent parts of Washington County in the Oregon Legislature.