What? Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees?: Oregon School Funding (by Guest Blogger Amanda House)

school boardsOregons School Funding History

1903 – State courts set up new county school funds that taxed their residents a minimum of $6 per child for each school year. 85% of which went to teacher salary.

1920 – Oregon had 2,543 school districts.

1950 – Basic School Support per child increased to $80. There was not an amount listed for how much of this went to teacher salary.

1973 – Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act passed (amended in 1995) that gave public employees more rights and power over their wages and compensation. This significantly increased school operating costs.

1975-78 – School districts were finally required to identify children with disabilities and provide appropriate education for them. This program is federally mandated but is very underfunded and one of the major operating costs for the districts.

1983 – “Nation at Risk” is recognized in Oregon and action is taken in response to the low quality of education by making an Action Plan for Excellence.

1991 – Legislative goal set to unify districts and reduce the number to 199 by 1998. There was a steady unification of school districts sense the 2,543 districts in the 20’s. Measure 5 was passed.

1993 – Schools start receiving lottery dollars.

2001-2002 – The financial situation for Oregon schools worsens. The revenue for the approved budget was short by $1.8 billion (17%).

2002 – EEF (education endowment fund) was converted into a “rainy day fund” but $150 million was used to ease the impact of the revenue loss on schools.

Even with this simplified version of the funding history of Oregon schools we can see the worsening budget crises and quality of education. What do you think the purpose of unifying or consolidating school districts was? How would this affect the barriers to equitable school funding?

Current Issues

In the 1970’s the government provided 78% of school funding. This money came primarily from property taxes. Per pupil property value varied significantly between districts from about $9-$20 per $1000 in tax. This difference equals about $674 up to $1,795 per child spending for districts. This is a huge spending gap and let to some important “equity” cases such as the one in 1976. The Oregon Supreme Court acknowledged the disparities and links between educational opportunities for students from lower spending districts. The ruling was not in the favor of the lower income but it created more awareness that there was a rising issue with education inequality. This information also relates to our class readings about families in poverty that are being pushed into counties and with a higher poverty rate. Measure 5 was passed in 1991 that required states to provide revenue to districts to make up for the lost money from the limitations placed on property tax. Oregon now provides 75% of school funding which takes up 50% of or state’s general fund. What benefits did this have? How did it affect the different communities? This shift caused some improvement in the per student spending equity among districts.

Current Issues and the Role of Voters

Current funding seems very interconnected with the role of voters. Districts are allowed to try for temporary levies for funding that are decided by the voters. Districts must hope that the voters will approve their levies and budget accordingly because they are only temporary, with the standard time frame being 5 years. This reliance on levies to fill the budget gaps makes it really difficult for the state to equalize funding between schools. Does this style of funding build barriers to education and funding equity between districts? The state has also not been able to keep up with inflation in their funding for k-12 schools. The lack of funds create barriers for learning and quality education by causing forced budget cuts. These cuts lead to larger class size, cuts in staff, pay freezes, and consolidating schools. Many reform goals I found listed on the internet were about educational achievement and test scores. I did not see action plans for how to reach those goals, or how to maintain support for those students and families that don’t have the needed support for educational attainment. Would closing smaller neighborhood schools and converting to large less local schools affect education? How would it effect socialization? Student accountability if they are 1 student out of 200 vs. 1 student out of 700?

In addition to the links listed above I also added some more sights with helpful information for those wanting to research Oregon School Funding.


8 thoughts on “What? Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees?: Oregon School Funding (by Guest Blogger Amanda House)

  1. Amanda, I really don’t know how monies collected from property taxes are divvied up to fund schools. I would hope that schools that need more would get more, but it doesn’t seem like that is what’s happening. I found this bit of information that helped my understanding a little bit.

    “The General Fund is the largest of a school district’s funds and covers the operations of schools, including expenditures for salaries and benefits, supplies, textbooks, utilities, and other general expenses.
    Revenues for the General Fund comes from two main sources: 1) money from the state. The state money, called the State School Fund, is taken mainly from Oregon’s income tax. All public schools in Oregon receive State School Funding each year, and 2) local property taxes, which are collected from homes, businesses, and other property within the school district’s boundaries” http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=14

    It seems to me from this explanation that schools in Lake Oswego would benefit more than here in Portland, only because their taxes may be more than what people in Portland pay. Do these monies then only benefit schools within that district? How could these monies benefit schools that are in different districts that need help?

    As for levies, I read in the Portland Tribune article “One of the constitutional amendments being pushed by the Oregon League of Cities could exacerbate inequities for East Portland residents, Novick says. That amendment would enable residents to vote for local property tax levies that exceed overall tax rate caps set by 1990’s Measure 5 tax limitation. East Portland residents would have to pay the higher tax rate on a larger share of their property’s value than their counterparts elsewhere in the city.”
    That being said, tax levies could help some, and really hurt others.

  2. Lisa, you ask some great questions here! As for how the money is divided up among schools in Oregon, we have an equity equation that divides up the money EQUALLY among all schools per pupil. Unlike what is happening in many states where the property taxes from a particular neighborhood fund only their neighborhood school (which results in dramatic inequities), schools here receive the same amount per pupil (with some additional funding for ELL students, high poverty students, and students with disabilities — these groups all require additional resources and, thus, under Title I, get a little bit more money per student).

    That said, there are other reasons that some schools appear to be amply funded and others don’t. Schools that are underenrolled (for reasons often associated with gentrification and the transfer policy) will have less funding than fully enrolled schools because of fewer pupils. This can be difficult for small schools that are trying to build their schools back up. In addition, schools with wealthier PTA groups/parents often have fundraisers that raise up to $100,000.00 in a night that can be used in any way the school chooses — to hire an art teacher, to rebuild a gym, to bring in an additional 1st grade teacher if the class size gets too high, etc. Other schools do not have the resources for this kind of fundraising. Applying for grants for school projects is also something that some schools do well while others don’t. All of these issues contribute to inequities in funding overall.

    Another great site for looking at school funding is the Open Books Project: http://www.openbooksproject.org/. This gives a little more insight as well on some of the questions you raised!

    • $100,000 PTA fundraiser?! I never even imagined that. The community I grew up in didn’t even have that much collective disposable income. I hadn’t even thought of the PTA as such a huge resource for funding.

  3. Zapoura,

    Thanks for the info about how money is divided up equally among schools per student. I was relieved to hear that!


    • Thanks for the information on the fund raising. I did not even think about that side of it when I was researching funding. I also remember hearing talks about the number of parent volunteers. I would guess that schools with wealthier families might have more parents able to make time to volunteer in their child’s school. I worked at an elementary school for about 4 months and they had very few parent volunteers but when one showed up the staff was so happy to have someone their.

      I thought some of my readings said that Oregon had property tax levies in some districts that had to be voted in. Was this not Oregon? and if it is, and an area votes in tax levies then that money goes to all schools and not just that district? I’m curious if people would chose to vote in levies if the Money went to all Oregon schools instead of just their district.

  4. Here is an article about fundraising in Oregon that I just found:

    A few important thoughts from this article:
    “I never felt like my kid or I should have something at the expense of somebody else,” Ms. Parker said. “My feeling was we have to see the whole city as our kids.”

    “More and more foundation dollars,” said Matt Shelby, a district spokesman, “are being used to cover core programs, not extras.”

  5. I really like how you used a timeline to describe and explain the school funding history. It seems like we have come a long way from 1903 where they provided $6 per child for each school year to today where they had funding of 150 million, (even though it doesn’t all go where it should.)

    I also thought it was interesting that “current funding seems very interconnected with the role of voters. Districts are allowed to try for temporary levies for funding that are decided by the voters.” I’m not surprised about this but I wish that money wouldn’t always dictate what voters voted on and not.

  6. To address the point you made about school levies: I do not think it is a viable budget filler. It’s very difficult to convince people without children or people with kids in better-off schools that they need to pay more to help other children as well. Plus, these levies are on the ballot every election it seems like, and they’ve largely lost their effect. The time frame is too short and the amount of money they actually bring in is very small once it gets split up and distributed across the entire district. I think we need to change the way education legislation is brought to the attention of voters so it doesn’t seem like the same old request over and over again.

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