PROJECT SEEKS BETTER WAYS TO FUND SCHOOLS
Oregonians will be learning more about the Chalkboard Project in coming months. The project, backed by $1 million contributed by five business and civic foundations, has a clear mission in mind: to find a more stable funding source for Oregon's schools.
NEWSPAPER headlines have told the story of what our schools have faced in recent years: teachers and other staff members terminated, programs slashed and days cut from the school year.
The Chalkboard Project, led by an executive director, will scour the nation to study models and draw on experts to find a better way to finance Oregon schools.
The goal will be to develop a plan that provides stable funding while encouraging schools to offer the best education possible for their students.
The problem in Oregon is that our funding for schools is much too dependent on the state's income tax. As the economy falters and jobs are lost, taxes dwindle. That loss of funds is the reason why the Legislature floundered so much last summer in trying to come up with a budget for 2003-05. It eventually approved a package of tax increases to raise an additional $800 million.
When you stop and think about creating a stable funding source for schools, there's only so many things that can be done. Income taxes could be raised, but not many Oregonians are excited about that prospect. Witness the efforts of opponents of last summer's $800 million tax increase, who have placed the matter on the Feb. 3 ballot. Property taxes could be raised, but that would reverse a trend in the early '90s that put limitations on ad valorem taxes. A sales tax could be introduced, but Oregonians long have taken pride in being a state free of that revenue source.
The Chalkboard Project will have its work cut out for it. But the five foundations that chipped in to provide the money to study the problem and come up with a solution are to be commended. The Chalkboard Project task force should conduct a hearing in La Grande to draw ideas from people here. The end result of all the research and public discussions will be a tax reform proposal.
Oregonians should have an open mind in examining the ideas that the Chalkboard Project folks put on the table.
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