Whats rotten about education?
Budget shortfalls, student ratios, and teachers' contract disputes hamper institutions' ability to educate students
Let's just say it: education is pretty messed up right now.
Oregon taxpayers now spend roughly the same amount of money to incarcerate 13,401 inmates as they do to educate 438,000 university and community college students. But spending on prisons is growing at a faster rate than education and other state services.
The Department of Corrections and Oregon Youth Authority budget is projected to grow 19 percent in the next two years, to $1.66 billion, under Gov. Ted Kulongoski's budget $174 million more than what Kulongoski proposes to spend on universities and colleges.
The economy has affected more than services, however, as Portland Public Schools (PPS) Superintendent Susan Castillo announced in September that Oregon's homeless student population for the 2008-09 school year was 18,059, an increase of nearly 14 percent from the school year prior.
Adding to these statewide numbers, according to preliminary reports, enrollment in Portland Public Schools (PPS) is up for the first time in more than a decade, with 46,898 students enrolled as of Oct. 1. PPS in September saw triple-digit increases in kindergarten and 1st grade enrollment, a trend that began two years ago. High school enrollment increased by more than 300 students the first increase at the high school level in 13 years.
Statewide, teachers had seen an improvement in the student-teacher ratio link to tr.im and now, with an increase in enrollment, those numbers may worsen.
In fact, because Portland Public Schools teachers have now gone 17 months without a contract with the school district, the teachers union has become increasingly vocal about the poor working conditions. The PPS Equality website http://ppsequity.org offers an up-to-date record of just how long teachers have gone without a contract. The educators have even been forced to work furlough days, and have haven't gotten a raise in all that time.
Root of it all
So, what do all these statistics mean? Well, it definitely makes for some tough learning and working conditions for both students and teachers. And, that at the heart of all of these issues is money.
Oregon's budget is $2 billion short, and the 2009 Oregon Legislation has been slashing funding across the state's institutions. Then, it decided to raise taxes on a select few. That is where Measures 66 and 67 and the Jan. 26th special election come in.
Legislators anticipate raising between $727 million and $733 million in new revenue during the 2009-11 biennium from corporations and high-income Oregonians if Measures 66 and 67 pass. If they don't pass, a lot of Oregonians will pay the price in lost state services. Currently, 94 percent of Oregon's budget goes to vital services education, health care, public safety, and human services which could all see further drastic cuts.
Education's money comes out of the state's general fund budget. That budget is the portion of total state spending over which lawmakers have discretion.
According to the Legislative Revenue Office, about 90 percent of the general fund comes from personal and corporate income taxes, and another 7.5 percent comes from the Oregon Lottery. Property taxes do not fund state government, but do pay part of the tab for K-12 education.
Another option for funding education if the measures don't pass is available, but would negatively affect Oregonians already feeling the brunt of the down economy. That option is House Bill 2414.
HB2414, which became law in July 2009, revises the Oregon Constitution to allow the state to issue general obligation bonds to match voter approved bonds for K-12 school capital costs. The measure accomplishes this by adding two different provisions to the Constitution. The first new provision would allow local taxing districts to incur bonded indebtedness on or after January 1, 2011, to finance capital costs.
The bill would be a slower, more costly (in terms of more paperwork to get it voted on, and who would be paying for the bond), and would still not provide a longer-term solution, as Measures 66 and 67. But, corporations and rich are crying foul, and the election is shaping up to be very close.
Which would you rather have fronting the cost of education?
Budget greatly impacting PPS teachers
The budget woes go beyond just finding funding for K-12 education, specifically affecting teachers of the PPS district.
From an Oct. 28 Willamette Week editorial http://tr.im/wwppsauction it was reported that the PPS district, in an effort to raise money for operational costs, set aside "105 'lots'; individual items like tables and band saws or pallets of miscellaneous electrical supplies.
The lots were advertised for a week in The Oregonian and on Craigslist, then on view for two days. Bidders interested in the items wrote down how much they would pay for each lot on their own ballots. They then dropped their ballots in sealed envelopes into a box. The bids were opened at the end of the second day, and the winners were announced on the spot so bidders could never know if anyone else was bidding on a coveted item or how much they wanted to pay.
"The two-day process earned the district $6,357. But it may have cost the district the trust of some teachers.
"'Every year teachers spend, on average, $600 from their own pocket on classroom supplies,' says Rebecca Levison, president of the Portland Association of Teachers union. 'I'm certain much of what was sold teachers would have used in their classrooms.'"
In fact, Schoolhouse Supplies, which was founded by Portland Public School parent Katie Gold, has grown from serving just 11 schools to all 130 Portland Public Schools.
In that same time, the nonprofit has distributed an estimated retail value of more than $11.2 million in school supplies.
Teachers union representatives are still in negotiations with the district, and the latest proposal before the educators is allegedly a 2 percent pay increase (though they would also be asked to take two more furlough days).
If the economy sees an uptick and Measures 66 and 67 pass, hopefully negotiations will continue for the better, and improved working conditions can follow suit.
A recent cable TV ad touts the message, "If you want to get to know Oregon, spend some time in its public schools." Hopefully, learning about our public schools in the near future won't just succeed in scare people away.
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