K-12 education budget shows costs of legislators' inaction: Editorial Agenda 2017



K-12 education budget shows costs of legislators' inaction: Editorial Agenda 2017

The K-12 education budget approved by the Legislature's Joint Ways and Means education subcommittee Thursday would -- in functional states, at least - seem like great news. The committee is recommending allocating at least $8.2 billion in general fund and lottery dollars for the coming biennium to Oregon's school districts - an 11 percent increase over the current biennium's allocation.

Not in Oregon, however. That enviable increase, fueled by a booming economy that's pouring record amounts of money into state coffers, still won't be big enough to stave off teacher layoffs and cuts across school districts due to rising employee health-care costs and pension obligations. And while Democrats on the subcommittee bemoaned large class sizes and short school years, they promptly approved the budget, arguably taking away some of the momentum for breaking Oregon's cycle of shortchanging students.

This is the price of legislators' inaction in dealing with Oregon's runaway spending problem. Despite facing a $1.4 billion budget deficit, lawmakers have yet to show the public a plan for restructuring how much public employers pay for benefits that threaten to gobble up bigger and bigger chunks of taxpayer dollars. While there's talk of cost-containment proposals coming next week, time is getting short for the thorough analysis and evaluation that must take place. With just over a month left in the session, Democrats - who control the House, the Senate and the governor's office - have a narrowing window to show just how genuine their commitment is to students and Oregonians as a whole.

The K-12 education budget approved by the Legislature's Joint Ways and Means education subcommittee Thursday would -- in functional states, at least - seem like great news. The committee is recommending allocating at least $8.2 billion in general fund and lottery dollars for the coming biennium to Oregon's school districts - an 11 percent increase over the current biennium's allocation.

Not in Oregon, however. That enviable increase, fueled by a booming economy that's pouring record amounts of money into state coffers, still won't be big enough to stave off teacher layoffs and cuts across school districts due to rising employee health-care costs and pension obligations. And while Democrats on the subcommittee bemoaned large class sizes and short school years, they promptly approved the budget, arguably taking away some of the momentum for breaking Oregon's cycle of shortchanging students.

This is the price of legislators' inaction in dealing with Oregon's runaway spending problem. Despite facing a $1.4 billion budget deficit, lawmakers have yet to show the public a plan for restructuring how much public employers pay for benefits that threaten to gobble up bigger and bigger chunks of taxpayer dollars. While there's talk of cost-containment proposals coming next week, time is getting short for the thorough analysis and evaluation that must take place. With just over a month left in the session, Democrats - who control the House, the Senate and the governor's office - have a narrowing window to show just how genuine their commitment is to students and Oregonians as a whole.

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