Threats to Our Public Schools (Part 2)

Part 2: Funding Fairness

Most people can agree that education is necessary and beneficial to our society and our economy. Without education we would not be able to fill positions that are necessary for the system to continue operating. But if education is so important in our country, what are we doing to ensure our children are getting the education they need in order to succeed and contribute to our economy?

Oregon and Funding

The fact that education is costly is no secret. Buildings need to be paid for and maintained, teachers need to be paid, curriculum needs to be developed and paid for, and so on and so forth. Are we contributing enough money to make sure that our children are receiving a quality education in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning? In 2011 a majority of states saw a decrease in school funding. Many states are not as invested in K-12 education as they previously were. In fact, Oregon is among the states that put out the lowest effort to fund education. Oregon donates less than 2.5% of its economic productivity to schools. But that’s just economic productivity. Surely our tax dollars make up for the difference, right? Not so much. Amendments to the Oregon Constitution were passed by voters in 1990 and 1997 which effectively cut property tax contributions in half. Since that time funding for schools has not been able to keep pace with the rising inflation which, in turn, exacerbates the impact. There may very well be some relation to this and the fact that Oregon’s state test scores are lower than the nation’s average.

Where Does Your Money Go?

When talking about how schools are funded, first one must understand the difference between capital funds and operating funds. Put simply, operating funds are the funds to keep the school operating (e.g. utility bills, teacher salaries, and educational programs) while capital funds are meant for paying for new buildings or making significant repairs and improvements. Capital funds typically come from voter approved bonds and the use of these funds is governed by Oregon law. Capital funds can only be used for capital expenses. Other states, like California and Washington, have measures to match local capital funds dollar for dollar. Oregon has no such measures. In fact, Portland Public Schools (referred to from here on out as PPS) do not receive capital funding from the state. Instead, funds that were meant for operational expenses get dipped into. This takes away from the teachers’ pay and from funding programs when unavoidable capital expenses come up, such as necessary repairs. We see funding getting drained from arts, music, and extracurricular activities such as sports. The power to change this lies in the hands of voters.

Aside from capital expenses taking from operating funds, there is another avenue where money seems to slip away. This avenue is school officials. While programs are getting cut and funds are coming from the funds that belong to normal bills and teacher pay, the top dogs are not only remaining in the six figure bracket, but they are getting raises. Just last week the superintendent of PPS received a 28% raise on a three year contract, which brings her salary up to $247,000 per year. If school funding is going down, why is superintendent funding going up?

Closing Thoughts

As stated earlier, education is going to absolutely necessary for the future of this country. The power to change things starts with us as voters. We should all consider how our money can impact our schools before marking our ballots, but we also need to be informed voters. We need to vote for the benefit of our future economy and society rather than for our own pocketbook, realizing what kind of snowball effect our votes might cause. We also need to step up and make sure that funding is being spent in ways that will benefit our students. Where would you want your money to go? How would you want your money to be spent? How are you going to better the education? Change starts with us.

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