RESIST TEMPTATION; DON'T RAID TRUST FUND

May 03, 2002 12:00 am

The public needs to sit up and take notice whenever the Oregon Education Association, representing the state's public school teachers, and the Oregon School Boards Association agree on something.

Teachers and school board members often are at odds over issues of salaries and benefits and questions on how schools should be run. The two groups are united, however, in their opposition to Measure 13 on the May 21 ballot. That in itself is not a reason to oppose the measure. But the arguments the groups set forth are worth considering.

Measure 13 would convert Oregon's education endowment fund into what would be called an education stability fund. Currently, 15 percent of Oregon Lottery proceeds are deposited into the endowment fund. The Legislature is prohibited from using the principal, but is able to use earnings from the principal to fund public education.

If Measure 13 is approved, the Legislature would be able to spend the principal on schools. Specifically, the measure provides for a transfer on May 1, 2003, of $220 million from the fund to be used for kindergarten-through-12th grade education. This would leave a meager $58 million in the fund — with the lottery adding about $50 million to it each year.

The Legislature sees the $220 million as an attractive source for funding education during a time when state revenue has been hit hard by the recession.

One would think Oregon's teachers and school board members would jump on board this train, eager to see the $220 million filter down to local school districts. That's not the case.

The OEA and OSBA see Measure 13 as doing nothing to help schools in the long-run. It does not prevent funding cuts now or in the future. While offering a Band-aid to the current funding situation, the measure is short-sighted and does nothing to address Oregon's school funding problems.

We would hate to see the Oregon Legislature make further extensive cuts in funding for public education when it meets for another special session on the 2001-03 budget this spring. The trickle-down effect on schools in Northeast Oregon could be scary. The quick fix provided by Measure 13 is tempting.

But voters should resist the temptation to tamper with an education endowment fund that is sound and has good potential for providing for some of the funding needs of schools in the future. Making a raid on the trust fund and opening the door for future raids would eat away at that potential.

It's a tough call, but The Observer recommends a no vote on Measure 13. The Legislature will have to dig a little deeper into its creativity and come up with other solutions.