What Did Oregon Legislators Do?  Allocated $10.2 Billion for K-12 and Several Billion for Higher Education

Legislators pass education bills on reading, finance, school days and more

The $10.2 billion K-12 budget marks a new high, with several billion more for higher education

By: – June 25, 2023
Reading instruction in elementary school.

Teachers at Brooklyn Elementary School in Baker City watch Ronda Fritz demonstrate a reading lesson. Lawmakers approved an unprecedented $10.2 billion K-12 budget in the 2023 session. (Alex Baumhardt/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

A number of big education initiatives have passed the Oregon Legislature, including the largest literacy investment in the state in at least the last two decades.

Another measure would give special education teachers 20% more pay than their general education peers and would allow teachers licensed in other states to teach in Oregon. Other proposals include one that would require high schoolers to learn about personal finance and career pathways before graduating, and another that would guarantee students with disabilities not be put on shortened school days – or weeks – without their parent’s consent.

The measures move to Gov. Tina Kotek’s office for her signature.

Reading overhaul

Kotek was behind the literacy package allocating about $145 million toward improving reading and writing instruction. That marks the biggest such investment since 2001.

Oregon children have not improved much over the past 25 years despite spending more than $250 million during that time on reading, the Capital Chronicle found in an investigation. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card, about two in five Oregon fourth graders and one in five eighth graders rank “below basic,” meaning they struggle to read and understand simple words.

Lawmakers backed House Bill 3198 to help. It won wide support from the Legislature, passing the House on Thursday, 51-1, and the Senate on Saturday, 22-3. Called the Early Literacy Success Initiative, it would create several grant programs to help schools and community groups pay for K-3 reading tutors, training for teachers in reading instruction, new reading curricula and summer reading programs.

Sarah Pope, executive director at the education advocacy nonprofit Stand for Children Oregon, which played a key role in getting the legislation created and passed, said the $145 million investment is a start.

“We’re shining a spotlight on literacy. We’re saying this is important, that the research-aligned strategies matter. We understand how kids learn to read and we’re going to incentivize districts to align their teaching practices and supports with that research,” she said.

The bill goes into effect when it becomes law but $20 million for community groups and the Oregon Department of Early Learning for preschool reading programs will be put on hold until at least February of 2024 when the Legislature next meets. That’s because lawmakers in the budget-making Joint Ways and Means Committee wanted the early learning department and the Oregon Department of Education to present a clearer plan for how the money would be spent, according to an analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Office.

Teacher shortages

Lawmakers also approved an omnibus bill to address teacher shortages. Senate Bill 283 stemmed from a work group of experts convened by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, last year. The bill includes teacher retention incentives, higher pay to special education teachers and provisions to make hiring easier. Oregon would join a compact with several other state’s to allow reciprocity for teacher licenses so candidates don’t have to pursue new licenses in Oregon.

The bill passed the Senate on Friday, 21-3, and was approved by House members on Saturday along mostly partisan lines, 35-13. Before the pandemic, Oregon schools struggled with short staffing and the number of vacancies have only mounted since the pandemic hit, according to a 2021 report by the Oregon Education Association. A 2022 statewide Educator Equity Report found that more than 60% of first-year teachers in Oregon did not return to their positions the following year.

Finance and the future

By 2027, Oregon high schoolers would need to take lessons in personal finance and career preparation to graduate under Senate Bill 3B, which passed with overwhelming support – in the Senate on Tuesday, with a 24-1 vote, and in the House on Wednesday, 42-7.

The measure would require those students to learn how to apply for college, job training programs and apprenticeships and how to fill out financial aid and scholarship applications. They would also gain a “personal financial education,” according to the bill. This includes learning about opening a bank account, credit scores, investing, debt, loans and taxes.

Full school days

Another proposal, Senate Bill 819, would end a practice in some schools of shortening class time for students with disabilities because of a lack of special education teachers and qualified staff. It passed the House on Friday, 38-14, with bipartisan support and passed the Senate on Saturday thanks to Democratic support with a 19-6 vote.

The bill stems from the efforts of Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, who has been pushing for the legislation since 2022 after hearing from many parents that their children had been denied full school days without their consent or a lawful reason.

“I kind of came into this session thinking this would be one of the first things that we passed,” Gelser Blouin said. It was a positive thing that we could do.”

As it turned out, she had a lot of wrangling to do. District leaders and school administrative groups, such as the Oregon School Boards Association, claimed in testimony that sometimes districts lacked the staff and resources to fully support some students with disabilities, especially with persistent staff and teacher shortages since the pandemic.

“It’s possibly one of the hardest things that I have worked on in the Legislature,” she said of the bill.

Students with disabilities are guaranteed equal class time as their peers under federal law. The bill simply reiterates those requirements, Gelser Blouin said.

Legislature allocates billions to schools

The Oregon Legislature has passed a K-12 education budget that gives districts an unprecedented amount of funding for teacher salaries, school supplies, textbooks and maintenance for the schools that serve more than 550,000 Oregon students.

Here’s an overview:

  • $10.2 billion to K-12 schools through House Bill 5015 for the 2023-2025 budget cycle. That represents nearly $1 billion more than the current two-year budget.
  • Combined with local property revenues, K-12 schools would get $15.3 billion.
  • $25 million to address the state’s shortage of educators, including in special education. This includes $10 million for apprenticeships for beginning teachers and mentoring programs for teachers; $8.9 million for extra pay to help the state’s special education workforce in the 2024-2025 school year; $5 million for more training for special education teachers; and $795,000 for a task force to study teacher pay and a task force on substitute teachers.

The higher education budget amounts to $3.7 billion for public universities and community colleges.

  • $1 billion for public universities and $800 million for community colleges to cover operational costs.
  • $308.4 million for the Oregon Opportunity Grant financial aid program for low-income students. That’s a $100 million increase for the next two-year period.
  • $24.2 million for the Tribal Student Grant program, which helps Indigenous students.
  • $73.9 million for a variety of construction and renovation projects in community colleges throughout the state.

— Ben Botkin

Source: Legislators pass education bills on reading, finance, school days and more – Oregon Capital Chronicle

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