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Kotek proposes $13.5 billion for education but critics say more is needed

Over the next two years, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek wants to invest more money in education for the state’s youngest learners, ensure ninth graders are on-track to graduate and address racial inequities for students and educators. She also wants to improve literacy rates and lower child care costs.

She’s proposing a budget that represents an historic high in school funding during a time of historic need. But some K-12 and higher education experts argue it isn’t enough. 

“Every child deserves a safe place to learn. And every family needs access to affordable child care,” Kotek said in a press conference after releasing her 2023-25 budget. “After years of pandemic disruptions, we have a lot of work to do to build toward that vision.” 

Education accounts for $13.5 billion, more than 40% of her proposed $32.1 billion in spending of the state’s general and lottery funds.

Highlights include $100 million for preschools, elementary schools, community-based organizations and tribes to teach children to read and $20 million for summer school programs focused on literacy. Her budget also calls for more than $200 million for early childhood education and care.

But most of the money – an historic $9.9 billion – is devoted to the State School Fund, which pays for educating Oregon’s 550,000 K-12 students and for district operating expenses, transportation costs and other needs. 

The $9.9 billion marks an overall $600 million increase in K-12 spending for the biennium and would average out to about $9,682 per student in 2023-24 and roughly $10,000 per student in 2024-25, according to preliminary estimates from the Oregon Department of Education. 

The state is paying $9,468 per student in the current 2022-23 school year.

“Today, our state invests more to provide for the needs of children than at any other time in our state’s history,” the budget reads. “The value we place on early childhood services and K-12 education continues to be a marker of who we are as Oregonians.”

Kotek said last week that her budget is “realistic” and focuses on core services that Republican and Democratic leaders agree should be prioritized. She also said her proposal for the State School Fund is a starting point. 

Kotek expects to reach a higher number in working with legislators, who are responsible for approving state spending. Lawmakers have to agree on a budget over the next five months.

‘Education is too important’ 

Leaders with the Oregon Education Association, Oregon School Boards Association and other groups say the budget marks a move “in the right direction” but is still not enough to correct a history of underfunding.

Oregon historically has not matched the recommendations of its Quality Education Model. 

The model was created by the Legislature in 1999 and is produced by the 11-member Quality Education Commission, which is staffed by the Oregon Department of Education. The commission researches best practices and determines how much money is needed for a successful public education system. The commission’s findings, presented as the Quality Education Model, are given to the Legislature and governor every two years to guide budget decisions.

For the 2021-23 biennium, the model called for $11.2 billion, but the Legislature appropriated $9.3 billion, according to the commission’s 2022 report.

Now, the model calls for a State School Fund investment of nearly $11.9 billion.

Accounting for all education funding, Oregon spends about $12,855 per K-12 student, according to 2020 census data. The national average that year was $13,187, with some states spending more than $20,000.

“Education is too important to shortchange our students even one more year,” Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said in a statement Tuesday. 

He gave an example: “Our current fourth graders have only one year to be in fourth grade, and we need to provide the educational opportunities that those children – and every student in Oregon – deserve.”

College and university students

Oregon’s public university presidents said last week that the proposed public university funding and financial aid levels in Kotek’s budget would result in lost opportunities for Oregon’s students and workforce.

Oregon ranks 45th in the nation in per-student state funding of public universities, spending $5,580 per student in 2021 compared to the U.S. average of $8,859. Oregon also invests $475 per student per year in financial aid – less than half the national average of $1,138, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

University leaders say more money needs to be invested by the state for financial aid, academic support and career development. Underfunding, and relying on rising tuition costs, especially hurts historically underserved students, they said.

Kotek’s budget would allocate $933.2 million to the Public University Support Fund. This money goes to seven state universities – including Eastern Oregon, Portland State, Oregon State, University of Oregon and Western Oregon – for instruction, research, public services and operations. Altogether, these schools serve about 96,590 graduate and undergraduate students.

That allocation represents a 1.4% increase from about $920.2 million in 2021-2023, but university leaders with the Oregon Council of Presidents are pushing for $1.05 billion, a 14% increase. 

Dana Richardson, executive director of the council, said that with rising costs and inflation, the universities will need $972 million just to retain the status quo – nearly $40 million more than Kotek’s proposal. 

“We are asking that the state stop forcing students and their families to pay more tuition to make up for the shortfall in state funding,” Richardson told the Capital Chronicle.

According to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, full-time, undergraduate students at Oregon colleges and universities currently spend between $6,169 and $32,095 every year on tuition and fees. The amount depends on whether they are paying in- or out-of-state tuition at a community college or university, with nonresident students at universities spending the most.

That’s nearly doubled in the last decade, with the range between $3,720 and $19,194 in 2010-11.

What’s more, the percentage that students cover has increased dramatically. In 1990, the state paid for more than 61% of public universities’ educational and general operations; students paid for 28.7%. By 2021, the roles were reversed, with students paying 65.3% and the state covering 26.1%.  

Under Kotek’s proposed budget, students’ portion would climb to 68.5%, and the state’s would decrease to 23.4%.

Oregon education leaders also want more funding for the state’s 17 community colleges, major renovation projects and the Oregon Opportunity Grant. 

The opportunity grant, established in 1971, is the largest and oldest state-funded, need-based grant program. According to budget documents, the program each year helps about 40,000 Oregon students pay for tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board and other school needs. The money is meant for undergraduate students from low-income households who attend an Oregon community college or university. 

Kotek’s budget proposes a $100 million investment in the grant and would ensure the Oregon Tribal Student Grant program continues with a $40.2 million investment, funding the cost of attendance for all eligible members of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. Leaders like Richardson want to see at least this amount allocated.

Nagi Naganathan, president of the Oregon Institute of Technology and chairman of the Oregon Council of Presidents, said institutions require more support today as they serve an increasingly diverse student body. 

“It is important that our legislative leaders deliver investments that will make higher education attainable for every aspiring student,” he said.

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