SALEM — Oregon’s education establishment was the big winner, and human services and Gov. John Kitzhaber’s targeted spending on education priorities were the losers, in the two-year plan unveiled Wednesday by the Legislature’s chief budget writers.
Sen. Richard Devlin of Tualatin and Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland, both Democrats, proposed a state school fund of $7.24 billion, up almost $600 million from the current two-year cycle that ends June 30.
Kitzhaber had proposed about $6.9 billion for the fund, from which Oregon’s 197 school districts draw the lion’s share of operating costs.
Many teachers, administrators and board members argued that the lower amount was insufficient for them to maintain programs. Kitzhaber said if Oregon is to make progress toward its goals of graduating all students from high school and 80 percent of them moving on to college or advanced training by 2025, the state needs to put more money in programs advancing those priorities.
The higher amount in the legislative budget assumes $220 million for the cost of full-day kindergarten, which schools will start this fall.
That budget also proposes more state support for community colleges and state universities.
“Our goal is to move education forward in all parts,” Buckley told reporters in the presentation.
The state school fund is the largest single chunk of the budget.
The proposal was contained in the framework drawn up by Devlin and Buckley, known as the “co-chairs’ budget,” that will guide the Legislature’s budget committee in deciding how to spend more than $18 billion from the tax-supported general fund and lottery proceeds.
This is the earliest in years that the framework has been unveiled.
“That’s an amazing accomplishment in this day of dysfunctional governments across our country,” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said in a statement.
Unlike the governor’s budget, which is presented as a single document, lawmakers approve spending bills for individual agencies within the framework, and do not vote on a single budget.
“There are still 10,000 different decisions that still have to be made,” Devlin said in reference to the details of agency budgets that are reviewed by subcommittees.
All those budgets have to be signed by the governor.
Kitzhaber, in a statement released after the presentation, avoided an argument with the legislative budget writers.
“I commend the co-chairs for the work they have done this early in the year to put together this framework. It is an important starting point,” Kitzhaber said.
But Senate Republicans came to the defense of Kitzhaber’s education and public safety proposals.
Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, said the legislative plan gives short shrift to the governor’s priorities, particularly in school-to-work programs and improved instruction in science, technology, engineering and math.
“They may believe their education budget is adequate, but kids and teachers in classrooms across Oregon continue to feel the pressure,” Thomsen said. “Without meaningful investment in career education and STEM programs, our students will fall behind.”
Sen. Jackie Winters of Salem, the top Senate Republican on the budget committee, said Kitzhaber’s budget contains money for local community-corrections initiatives that the legislative plan slashes.
“We’re disappointed that this budget violates the agreement made in 2013 to fund justice reinvestment grants supporting community corrections initiatives,” Winters said. “While the governor honored the agreement in his budget, this proposed 65 percent cut will place a greater burden on our local public safety organizations.”
The legislative budget also proposes $535 million in state aid to Oregon’s 17 community colleges districts, up from the current $465 million and the $500 million proposed by Kitzhaber.
The legislative budget proposes $635 million in direct support for the seven state universities, which received full autonomy last year. That amount is up from the current $521.5 million and the $593.7 million proposed by Kitzhaber.
Much of the money for those increases will come from the $800 million Kitzhaber proposed for a variety of education priorities, such as early childhood and learning, reading skills improvements, high school and college completion, and school-to-work programs.
“We believe a number of the priorities that have been pointed out in education … are very important,” Devlin said.
The legislative budget proposes $60 million, Devlin said, “to begin to look at how those investments will be made, but not making any decision on the divisions between those various items.”
Kitzhaber had proposed formula shifts to carve out about $120 million of the $800 million. Some officials raised concerns about a proposal to reward districts based on their movement of students out of English-learning programs.
Devlin said the legislative budget assumes no formula shifts, but proposes $34 million to assist districts with state grants for the education of higher-cost students with disabilities.
If future revenue forecasts project more money available in the next two years — there will be two more forecasts before the start of the budget cycle July 1 — Devlin and Buckley said they want to boost the state school fund by $20 million more, community colleges and state universities each by $15 million more, and early childhood programs by $10 million more.
The biggest chunk for restorations, however, is $40 million for human services, which Devlin and Buckley shaved by $140 million in their framework.
Additional add-backs if more money become available are $30 million for public safety, and $15 million for economic development and natural resources.
“All of our subcommittees are going to face a challenge,” Devlin said.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in both chambers, but Democrats do not have the 60 percent majorities required to pass revenue-raising measures without at least one Republican vote in the House.
Although some agency budgets assume fee increases, the legislative budget plan envisions only a continuation of a 50-cent-per-bottle fee on state liquor sales.
The top House Republican on the joint budget committee, Rep. Greg Smith of Heppner, said Republicans will resist general tax increases to raise more money.
“We know that passing a state budget that pays our bills and delivers essential services to Oregonians will require bipartisan cooperation,” Smith said. “However, we will not support tax increase proposals that hurt working families, small businesses and rural communities.”