Report: Oregon schools extremely behind in funding

salem-salem

Photo: Courtesy of the Oregon Education Association via Statesman Journal

Report: Oregon schools extremely behind in funding

4:51 p.m. PDT August 27, 2016

A student in Salem, Oregon would have a very different educational experience than one in Salem, Massachusetts.

Aside from a notable change in weather, the student in Massachusetts would receive thousands of dollars more per year in funding, is more likely to graduate in four years, and would have a smaller student-teacher ratio and average class size than in Oregon.

Massachusetts was ranked by Education Week as the number one state for school funding. By comparison, Oregon ranked 35th.

A report conducted by the Oregon Education Association and partners argues that the difference in funding between Oregon and Massachusetts is creating the difference in results. The report is titled: “Decades of Disinvestment: The State of School Funding in Oregon.”

“We talk a lot about equity in the state, but then we turn our backs on the students who need it,” said Hanna Vaandering, president of the association. “The future of Oregon are in our classrooms today.”

Prior to 1990 and the passage of Measure 5, Oregon’s school funding relied heavily on local property taxes.

Today, Oregon has some of the largest classes, shortest school years and lowest graduation rates in the country.

In order to simply catch up to the national average, Oregon would need to need to invest billions of dollars more per biennium.

“We need to come together to do the right thing,” Vaandering said. “There is nothing surprising in the report … it’s heartbreaking.”

Over the years, Oregon has lost hundreds of educators and support staff.

Oregon has gone from 881 certified librarians in 1980, a ratio of 1 librarian to 500 students, to 130 certified librarians in 2014, at a ratio of 1 librarian to 4,500 students. Similarly with nurses, Oregon has one of the worst nurse/student ratios in the country — with only one school nurse for every 4,664 Oregon students in 2014-15, according to the report.

Today, 40 percent of Oregon’s school districts have no nurses at all.

“When I look at the comparison between Salem, Massachusetts and Salem, Oregon, I can’t help but think we are failing our children,” said Otto Schell, legislative advocate with the Oregon Parent Teachers Association. “To match what other states with better education outcomes are doing we need to stop the disinvestment and start funding our schools at a level we can be proud of.”

Vaandering and other proponents voiced their support for Measure 97, a ballot measure that would create a 2.5 percent tax on corporate sales exceeding $25 million.

Oregon is currently 50th in the nation in effective taxes paid by corporations, according to the report.

“We can improve outcomes for our students by bringing Oregon’s class sizes and instructional time up to the standards set by the rest of the county,” Vaandering said. “What we can’t afford to do is stay on the same path that we have been on since Measure 5.”

There are a handful of things to consider:

  • The Oregon Quality Education Model identified a $2 billion funding gap
  • The state would need to invest $3 billion more per year in K-12 education to equal Massachusetts
  • Oregon would have to add nearly 7,500 educators to get class sizes down to the national average
  • An additional week of school would cost $100 million per year, but would get Oregon students closer to the national average of days
  • Oregon schools have deferred $7.6 billion in facilities maintenance

Schell said the report confirmed his suspicions and concerns on state funding for education.

“It’s challenging to see us stuck,” Schell said. “For the future of our kids and our state, we have to get unstuck.”

Read the report online on the Oregon Education Association’s website.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter@Nataliempate, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist or on the web at nataliepate.com

State comparison by the numbers

Salem, Massachusetts:

  • Funding per student: $16,721
  • Four-year graduation rate: 89.2 percent
  • Operations and maintenance spending per pupil: $859
  • Student-teach ratio: 10 to 1
  • Average class size: 15.8

Salem, Oregon:

  • Funding per student: $10,321
  • Four-year graduation rate: 78.9 percent
  • Operations and maintenance spending per pupil: $640
  • Student-teach ratio: 13 to 1
  • Average class size: 25

Key findings

  • In 2014-15 Oregon had the third largest classes in the country. Oregon’s 20.7 student-to-teacher ratio was about one-third higher than the national average (15.8). 
  • In the 2014-15 school year, Oregon students averaged 169.9 days in the classroom. Most states require a minimum 180 days per school year.
  • Oregon used to have more than 1,200 career and technical education programs, but now there are fewer than 700 statewide.
  • Since 2008, one in 20 schools has closed or consolidated, which means fewer kids are going to neighborhood schools and transportation costs are higher. 
  • Education Week ranked Oregon 39th in school funding.
  • In 2013-14 the National Center for Education Statistics ranked Oregon’s graduation rate fourth lowest in the country. 
  • The Quality Education Model, the guiding document behind school funding in Oregon, identifies a $2 billion funding gap in 2015-17. That much investment would move Oregon up to around 15th in per-pupil funding for K-12 — Oregon’s ranking before Measure 5 took effect. 
  • To equal the investments made in Massachusetts, Quality Count’s top-rated state, Oregon would have to spend around $3 billion more per year on K-12 education, or $6 billion per biennium.
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