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School budget: It's the best we can do with what we have

Parents, teachers, superintendents and students are telling me, "Don’t vote for this budget, Laurie."

They are frustrated.

They see unemployment numbers dropping, home pricing rising, cranes across the skyline in downtown Portland, and it’s clear that we are in the midst of an economic recovery.

Sen. Laurie Monnes AndersonSo where is the recovery for our schools?

My constituents ask: Why aren’t schools getting everything they need?

They ask: Haven’t we taken the brunt of the tough cuts already?

They ask: Don’t you want our children to have the resources they need to succeed?

They are right to ask these questions and they are right to be frustrated. I share their frustration today. I also am upset.

I know that the K12 budget in this education funding bill today is not adequate. No one is arguing that this budget is adequate, but this is what we have in front of us today.

The Gresham Barlow School District tells me that with a statewide budget of $7.25 billion in 2015-16 biennium they will need to cut $5 million from the biennium, even though the school district is getting $4.6 million more than the previous year. (That reflects the introduction of all-day kindergarten.)

Yet, my schools costs are going up faster than the revenue we can afford to budget for them. Our revenues are not keeping up. It’s not like we are not giving schools more money. We are.

I looked at the rest of the co-chairs budget.

We can’t cut from the physical and behavioral health care services for more than 250,000 school age children each month. The $559 million we budgeted will leverage $1.2 billion in federal funds.

We would be irresponsible to cut from this budget because we get such a huge return on our investment and we provide so many children services. Without these services our kids will not be ready to learn in our school system

Did you know that 2,400 school-aged children will need outpatient and residential community mental health services that are not covered by the Oregon Health Plan? This is $77 million. Our kids can’t learn if their physical and mental health needs aren’t met first. I can’t cut from this budget either.

Do I want to cut $4 million to the school-aged children who need alcohol and drug services? Of course not. How about the child welfare programs that support about 8,000 school-aged children?

I can’t see cutting $272 million from the Oregon Youth Authority that maintains services to youths 10 to 20 years of age who need their physical, medical, educational and mental health needs met. This money is used for juvenile crime prevention, diversion and gang intervention programs. Can you see cutting this budget? I can’t.

I can go on and on why $7.25 billion is the best budget at this time for K-12. Is it enough? No! Is it fair? Yes! It is the best we can do today.

Remember, this K-12 budget is the starting point for our schools — this is a floor to give districts the ability to plan for the upcoming school year. We are locking in to this level of funding with the understanding that we will only go up from here.

A substantial portion of any new revenue in May will go directly to our schools. Without that commitment to direct new funding to our schools, I would be a “no” vote today.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-District 25, lives in Gresham. She is chair of the Senate Committee on Health Care. She also is a member of the Senate Committee on Human Services and Early Childhood.

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