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There are steps to take to solve education funding woes

On behalf of the Lake Oswego Junior High School Advisory Committee, I would like to thank Reps. Chris Garrett and Julie Parrish for meeting last month with parents and community members who are concerned about education funding in Oregon.

The discussion ranged from revenue reform and local control to the role of the Oregon Education Investment Board and, of course, PERS. It is clear that schools face a fiscal challenge. As a percentage of state expenditures, education funding has steadily decreased since the early 1990s. In actual dollars, the amount allotted to districts has bounced up and down since 2002.

Funding is neither adequate nor stable. The governor’s proposed 2013-15 education budget of $6.1 billion is only slightly higher than the 2007-09 budget. Though this proposal represents an increase over the last biennium, pension and benefit expenses will consume those additional dollars. We will barely be able to cover the costs of what we have, let along restore what has been cut (school days, secondary electives, PE and music hours) ... and Lake Oswego is in better shape than many districts in Oregon.

In Ms. Dakessian’s Jan. 31 article about the town hall, I am quoted as saying that we can fix this. I believe we can, but we must solve it together.

The final question from the audience that evening was, “What concrete steps can we — as community members — take to help solve Oregon’s education funding crisis?” Here are some of the answers:

Understand the complexity of the issue. Just asking for more education money is not enough. There are many demands on the state coffers, primarily from human services and public safety. Reforms to those programs can free up money for education. Dollars invested in education result in savings in human services, corrections and remedial education budgets down the line.

Pay attention to costs as well as revenue. Stable and adequate funding for education is critical, but those dollars must be spent efficiently, not only by school districts but also by all state agencies.

Advocate for schools. Contact your representatives to let them know what you think. Do you own property elsewhere in the state? Contact those representatives as well. School quality has a direct effect on property values and business viability. You have as vested an interest in successful schools in central or coastal Oregon as you do in Lake Oswego. Find your legislators at leg.state.or.us.

Join with other advocates across the state who work on education issues. Stand for Children works on funding issues as well as education policy reform. The Chalkboard Project works on improving teacher quality as well as funding. The state PTA advocates broadly for children on issues ranging from education to health care to juvenile crime.

Help LO schools directly. Support and help to renew our local option levy, which is a property tax that LO citizens passed to support our schools. The levy renewal will be on the ballot next November. That money stays in Lake Oswego.

Education funding is complex and intertwined with other state concerns. While we need to take the big picture into account, we must also insist that our state government make education a top priority. I invite you to join with other advocates during this legislative session to ensure stable and adequate funding and to help improve education for all Oregon students.

Courtney A. Clements, Lake Oswego, is a member of the LOJ SAC and Stand for Children.




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