Without question, Oregon schools are woefully underfunded.
We have some of the nation’s most crowded classrooms. We shortchange our kids in both the quantity and quality of the education they receive. Republicans and Democrats alike seem to agree that to provide all kids in Oregon the quality education they deserve requires a greater investment.
That said, it is also beyond dispute that K-12 education is the biggest single item in the Oregon state budget — the Oregon General Fund and Lottery Funds budget. Of all dollars allocated by the legislature, 39 percent go K-12 public schools.
So it was bewildering to read a news report of some lawmakers taking to task the majority of the legislature for approving a budget that only “spends one tenth” — 10.4 percent — “of our budget on K-12 education.”
What’s going on here? Why the confusion?
Apparently, the lawmakers were not looking at the Oregon General Fund and Lottery Funds budget, which reflects how Oregon spends revenue raised from Oregonians.
Instead, the lawmakers were wrongly doing their math with what’s called the All Funds budget. And that budget is not a good indicator of our education funding effort.
Here’s why. That’s the budget that includes not just the income tax dollars comprising the bulk of the General Fund and all Lottery funds, but also billions in federal funds like food stamp dollars (now called SNAP), Medicaid match dollars, fees for restricted purposes and bond proceeds that are categorized as “other funds.”
Together, federal funds and other funds comprise almost three-fourths of the All Funds budget. That’s why the share of the All Funds budget going to K-12 education is a poor indicator of the willingness of Oregon lawmakers to support education with Oregon tax dollars.
What would really demonstrate the legislature’s support of education would be their willingness to raise the revenue needed to adequately fund and significantly improve our public schools. In that respect, the will has been lacking.
That’s why the Oregon Center for Public Policy has teamed up with the League of Women Voters of Oregon on a project called Great Schools, Great Communities. We’re traveling the state to talk to communities about the chronic underfunding of our public schools and what we can and must do about it.
One thing everyone must agree upon first, however, is that to solve the chronic underfunding of our schools, we need to be clear on the facts.
This post was originally published on www.blueoregon.com on April 21, 2016. The original post can be found at http://www.blueoregon.com/2016/04/some-lawmakers-confused-about-oregon-education-funding-and-budget-basics/.