June 12, 2007

Contact: Rebekah Orr, 503-986-1904

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

Democrats Lead House to Approve Record Reinvestment in Oregon's K-12 Public Schools

Budgets totaling $6.245 billion for 2007-09 sail through on bipartisan vote

SALEM—House Democrats delivered on a promised significant reinvestment in K-12 education with the approval today of a combined $6.245 billion budget for 2007-09. Three budgets—the State School Fund, the School Improvement Fund and the Department of Education budget were approved today with unanimous, bipartisan support.

"Sixteen years of Republican control in the House wreaked havoc on K-12 schools in Oregon," said House Majority Leader Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County). "Today, Democrats have begun to reverse decades of disinvestment and finally put kids first in Oregon."

Democrats say the budget approvals represent a turnaround for education in Oregon with immediate effects felt throughout the state.

State Representative David Edwards (D-Hillsboro), whose district holds some of the highest-growth areas in the state told fellow lawmakers, "This reinvestment means my school district can add fifty-two new teaching positions, provide more academic support services and increase funding to three sports programs. These and other, similar improvements in districts around the state will make a material and transformative difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students."

Democrats say that in addition to the dollar amount, the approval of the three main education budgets today is the earliest passed by the Oregon Legislature in a decade. During the 2005 Legislative session, for example, the budget was not approved until the last day of session—August 5. This early passage allows school districts to immediately begin planning for the increased funding and implementing related changes in the upcoming school year.

"For years as a school board member, we lived with the uncertainty of late K-12 budgets that forced enormous increases in class size and the closure of four public schools in Corvallis alone," said State Representative Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis). "This is the best and earliest budget this state has seen in decades.  In approving this budget, we are promising our students lower classes, a full school year, and the promise of an education that will prepare them for success in the 21st century."

Two of the budgets approved today—The Department of Education Budget and the School Improvement Fund—contain specific programs and provisions aimed at increasing student achievement.

The Department of Education Budget includes $39 million to fund Oregon's pre-kindergarten Head Start Program--$10 million above the Governor's Recommended Budget. At previous funding levels, just over half of eligible kids could participate in the program. Today's approved budget allows the state to enroll 75 percent of eligible Oregon children.

"As a school principal I've seen too many kids come to school unprepared for academic success," said State Representative Betty Komp (D-Woodburn). "Too often, these kids—already at a disadvantage—fall even further behind. Head Start has a proven track record of preparing kids for a lifetime of success and ensuring that these kids come to school prepared to learn, thrive academically and socially."

Democrats say the $260 million contained in the School Improvement Fund is specifically dedicated to improving student achievement.

"Today's vote allows school districts flexibility to spend money on the established best-practices that are most critical for their student population—whether that is decreasing class sizes, implementing all-day kindergarten or increasing vocational training for high school students," said State Representative Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay).  "At the same time, by limiting the ways the money can be spent and requiring districts to report on the outcomes of those expenditures, the fund guarantees clear accountability to tax payers."

Building a world-class public education system—including adequate school funding-- is a core part of House Democrats' Roadmap for Oregon's future. The bills now move to the Senate for final approval.

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