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Ore. Educators Watch Budget Negotiations on State, National Level

Oregon lawmakers in Salem are grappling with a $1.4 billion budget shortfall. (Chris Phan/Flickr)
Oregon lawmakers in Salem are grappling with a $1.4 billion budget shortfall. (Chris Phan/Flickr)
May 18, 2017

SALEM, Ore -- As Oregon educators watch Salem to see how education funding will fare in this year's negotiations, they also are keeping one eye on the uncertainty at the federal level.

A 2018 budget from the Trump administration is expected next week and most likely will include large cuts to domestic programs in order to balance the budget. Laurie Wimmer, government relations consultant for Oregon Education Association, said the federal budget won't affect what happens in Oregon classrooms too much, but it could hurt students in other ways - especially those from low-income families.

"We would expect that Oregon would do everything it could to compensate for the loss of those federal dollars,” Wimmer said; "not necessarily in our operational budget so much, but in trying to find a way to plug the holes, such as in student nutrition services."

How Oregon could plug these holes remains a mystery, though. This week, economists forecast Oregonians might receive a $400 million "kicker" when they do their taxes next year because of higher-than-expected revenue, but that won't do much to help the state's budget shortfall, which is around $1.4 billion.

The mystery for funding the state's education budget remains too. OEA supports House Democrats' proposal, which would raise taxes on businesses with sales of more than $5 million in Oregon, bringing in $2 billion for schools and other services over the next biennium. OEA president Hanna Vaandering said schools are under increasing pressure to graduate more students, but can't be expected to achieve higher results without an investment from the state.

"You can't demand things without actually making an investment to get it done,” Vaandering said. "No business could do that. Why does anyone believe that public education could do it?"

Oregon Republicans oppose the Democrats' tax proposal and say the state must rein in its spending.

However, teachers can see the budget crisis in the classrooms every day. Oregon has the third-largest class size in the nation. Springfield High School Spanish teacher Sara Thornton said her large class sizes take a toll on her and the education her students get.

"You teach a class of 25 a lot different than you teach a class of 35,” Thornton said. "You know, behavior management becomes an issue, as far as making as sure that all the kids are engaged and you're including as many as possible."

Oregon's per-student funding ranks 39th in the nation, according to Education Week.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR