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Mandates, PERS hurt schools

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of seeing my daughters Grace and Jane off to their first day of school at Orenco Elementary School. It was a wonderful diversion from politics. On this day, regardless of our own political leanings, I’m reminded we’re all parents who want the best for our children.

We’re all sending our children to school with the hope they’ll achieve and gain the skills they need to succeed later in life.

I’m the father of three young daughters, as well as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives. I have a unique responsibility, not only to take an active interest in my children’s education, but to do my part to improve education for all children in our community.

As state representative, I firmly believe education is our government’s top financial responsibility.

Most Oregonians would think education funding is the legislature’s first priority, but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Year after year, decisions on school funding are pushed to the very end of the legislative session. As a result, politicians and special interests secure funding for their own pet projects and leave our schools with the crumbs.

During my first term, I joined other like-minded Representatives in pushing the Legislature to fund schools first. Though the initial budget was unacceptable, we succeeded in passing the earliest K-12 budget in 16 years. While I was pleased to support additional K-12 funding later in the year, we set an important precedent that I will insist on upholding as long as I’m in office.

Our kids deserve a world-class education, but government has to be willing to pay for it. Previous Legislatures raised taxes, but our schools continued to suffer. An effective option to increase classroom funding immediately is to address the unfunded mandates and cost-drivers that are hurting our school districts. During my first term I voted to eliminate dozens of mandates, but there is more work to be done.

For example, the Public Employee Retirement System will cost school districts an average of 26 percent of their payrolls. Our educators and school employees deserve a good retirement plan, but the current system is costing us instructional days and increasing our class sizes.

We can reform PERS while honoring our commitments to retirees and current employees, while saving hundreds of millions of dollars that can be better spent in the classroom. I believe Oregonians are ready for an honest conversation on PERS reform, and I will place it firmly on the legislative agenda in 2013.

Sensible reforms will go far to increase education funding, but we really need a stronger economy to generate more revenue for our schools. That’s why I’ll continue to support measures to attract and retain employers, while supporting adequate funding for higher education and critical workforce development programs.

As parents and grandparents, we all want to ensure our children receive the best education. To accomplish this, the Oregon Legislature needs to take action. Our children’s future depends on it.

Republican Rep. Shawn Lindsay, a business attorney, represents House District 30 in the Oregon House of Representatives. He lives in Hillsboro.



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