Schools closer to full funding

By Betsy Hammond / The Oregonian December 30, 2013 10:29 am

PORTLAND — Oregon schools are less than $1 billion a year short of what they need to deliver a full-quality education, the closest they have been to full funding since 2008-09, a state report says.

There are two main reasons that the funding shortfall between ideal schools and actual ones is down from more than $1.5 billion a year as recently as 2012-13, says the Quality Education Commission, or QEC, which by law must issue the report by year’s end each year.

The 2013 Legislature stepped up and provided $6.7 billion for schools in 2013-15, up more than $800 million from the previous two-year budget.

More surprisingly, the projected cost of operating a statewide network of schools capable of getting nearly all Oregon students well-educated decreased year over year for the first time in the 13-year history of that figure being estimated. Why? The Legislature’s 2013 changes to the state public retirement system schools will cost at least $100 million less per year than was assumed in the past, the report says.

The aim of the report is to estimate how much a “Quality Education Model” indicates would be necessary to fund Oregon schools at a level that would allow nearly all students to meet Oregon academic standards in reading, writing, math and science; allow at least 90 percent of students in every demographic category to graduate on time; and feed into a system in which 80 percent of the state’s young people would earn a college credential, from career certification to a four-year degree.

All that takes a lot of teachers and other school employees, who are entitled to retirement benefits from Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS.

Year after year, the commission has said there is more than a billion-dollar gap between what the state agrees to pay and what schools need to get the job done.

In that context, this year’s report of an approximate $950 million annual shortfall is a bright one.

The Legislature’s “budget for K-12 education has never equaled the amount recommended by the QEC. However, it should be noted that the current (two-year) gap of $1.9 billion constitutes the narrowest gap since 2007,” the report says.