House narrowly approves K-12 budget
SALEM — The Oregon House of Representatives Tuesday narrowly approved an $8.2 billion state K-12 budget for the next two years. The budget now heads to Gov. Kate Brown for a signature.
The 31-28 vote followed a debate during which Democrats and Republicans agreed the amount was not enough. Yet, they blamed each other for failing to reach a deal on raising new revenue and containing rising overhead costs through reform of pension and health insurance benefits.
Gov. Kate Brown and legislative leaders announced last week that negotiations for an agreement had crumbled in the waning days of the legislative session.
Members from both parties stood on the House floor and asked each other how long they would accept mediocrity in the state's school system. Oregon's public schools have among the nation's largest class sizes, shortest school years and lowest high school graduation rates, despite spending more per pupil than many other states.
"Oregon has been kicking the can down the road since I was in the first grade, and it is kicking the can again," said Rep. Diego Hernandez, one of four freshmen Democrats who voted against the budget.
Reps. Hernandez, Julie Fahey, Meek and Tawna Sanchez were the only Democrats who voted no.
Republicans unanimously opposed the budget, saying Democrats had failed to seriously consider money-saving proposals to curtail state pension and health insurance costs.
Lawmakers have failed to earn voters' trust to efficiently manage tax revenue, said Rep. Richard Vial, R-Scholls. Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, said overhead costs are eating away the money that should be going toward students' education.
Other Democrats said they reluctantly consented to the budget and urged each other to pursue revenue reform in subsequent legislative sessions.
"We need to put partisanship aside and do what is right for Oregon," said Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro.
The spending plan consists of $7.68 billion from the general fund, $452.9 million in lottery proceeds and $63 million in other funds, including recreational marijuana tax revenue.
The plan exceeds the existing two-year budget by 11.2 percent.
Education advocates, including the Oregon School Boards Association, have said the amount fails to account for schools' increasing expenses related to bargained salaries and the rising cost of providing health insurance and pension benefits.
The Senate passed the budget 25-to-5 June 8.