Feed the Beast!!

Schools get billions from the state every year. That number is growing fast. Here’s why it’s never enough. $7.2 billion is a lot of money. It’s also the amount state lawmakers have committed to spend on Oregon’s public schools over the next two years. It’s a staggering number, vastly more than the state has ever spent to finance schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. But it’s not enough. Oregon students already face among the nation’s worst student-teacher ratios. They have the shortest school year. And they’re less likely to graduate from high school than students in almost any other state. For many of Oregon’s 571,000 public school students, things are about to get worse. Despite this year’s big funding increase—9 percent more money than two years ago—districts around the state say they will have to lay off teachers and cut instructional days. Again. In the state’s general fund, schools also must compete for money with health care, social services and prisons. And over the past decade, the public schools’ share of the state general fund has shrunk (see chart, this page). That shift alone has cut the allocation for schools by $1 billion. Oregon has 197 school districts. That’s 197 school boards made up of part-time volunteers who take time away from their families and careers to make children’s lives better and their communities stronger. The union’s job is to get as much as it can get for members. School boards must keep an eye on costs. And in some cases, those conflicting imperatives lead to true fights over contracts. That can lead local boards to be generous and commit to contracts they later can’t pay for. Chronic shortfalls leave many parents feeling like they are engaged in a never-ending bake sale. Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) wanted to connect school funding to outcomes. And he wanted to revisit a 2011 proposal that would tie local district contract increases to the amount of money actually available from the Legislature. That would stop districts from making promises when the money’s not there to keep them. As a lawmaker and member of the Hood River School Board, Johnson sees both sides of the funding problem. He says the disconnect between how the state provides school funding and how local districts spend it is crippling Oregon. www.wweek.com/portland/article-24661-feed_the_beas….html


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