6:01 p.m. PT March 21, 2017
Is school funding being prioritized in the Oregon State Legislature?
Senate Republicans argue it isn’t being prioritized enough — and they have a plan to fix that.
A Senate Republican-sponsored “Education First” package had its first public hearing in the Senate Education Committee this week.
“We must pass these resolutions to put an end to the legislature holding Oregon classrooms hostage during budget negotiations,” Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) said while presenting the resolutions to the committee Tuesday.
Senate Joint Resolution 20 proposes an amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would require the legislature to appropriate funds for Oregon’s K-12 system by the 65th day of the regular session in odd-numbered years.
The resolution would also prohibit legislators from being compensated starting on the 66th day if the appropriation is not passed. Ferrioli said the compensation cut-off “certainly gets the attention of the legislature.”
This cut-off would apply to compensation of any value, he said, referring not just to salary, but benefits as well.
The other proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 18, proposes another amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would require the legislature to fund K-12 education before passing any other appropriations for any other state agency.
Ferrioli said K-12 funding is a top priority for Oregon voters and he believes these resolutions reflect the public’s desires. The idea behind the resolutions has been in the works and presented for nearly 10 years, started, he said, by Senator Jason Atkins.
Ferrioli added school boards cannot accurately pass their budgets until the state finalizes its budget.
Senator Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) said he could argue both sides of the resolution. However, he brought up the concern that the May economic forecast could negatively impact education if the legislature has to pass a budget without that information.
The legislature has been able to complete its budget before the proposed deadline in most recent sessions, including in 2015 when the legislature passed the K-12 education budget in the shortest time in more than 20 years.
Ferrioli said the current way of things “creates tension.” He said, “I believe this is one way to eliminate that.”
The resolutions would have to be voted on by both the Senate and House, with the final passage coming down to voters. There are no other hearings or floor sessions scheduled at this time.