After nearly a year and a half of work, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Student Success passed its new education package out of committee Monday evening, just a day before the end-of-April goal.
House Bill 3427, formerly HB 2019, now heads to the House floor with a do-pass recommendation. It was approved by the joint committee in a 10-6 vote, split on party lines.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend; Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner; Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer; Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River; Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend; and Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, voted against it.
The committee — 16 legislators from both sides of the aisle — has met with educators, families and business leaders across the state since January 2018 to figure out what’s going well in schools, and what isn’t.
They came back this session to outline their priorities and how to fund them.
From a lack of diverse staff and social-emotional learning opportunities, to unsafe buildings and scarce mental health services, the committee quickly found there are numerous factors influencing students’ success in and outside the classroom.
As long as these issues go unresolved, families continue living without vital resources, educators are stretched thin and students miss necessary skills, earn less money on average and require more social services.
The committee’s preliminary recommendations centered around early childhood and mental health needs, college and career prep, more diverse staff and smaller class sizes.
Focus on early childhood ed
The updated proposal, which came out earlier this month, made progress on certain issues — including the need for more mental health counselors, smaller classes and extended learning time — but had no action for higher ed institutions.
Committee co-chairs said the goal of the joint committee has been focused on early childhood and K-12 education from the beginning, but Gov. Kate Brown and higher ed advocates have pushed back, saying you can’t improve statewide education without talking about what comes after high school.
Officials with the Coalition for the Common Good, an Oregon labor and business group, said the bill “is a bold and aspirational measure that has the potential to transform public education funding in Oregon into the future.”
“The Student Success Act fulfills a promise decades in the making,” said Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, who voted in favor of the amended bill. “As someone who is a product of Oregon’s public schools, (this) is personal to me.
“I have experienced the short school years, the over-sized classrooms and the cutting of extracurricular activities,” he said. “The Student Success Act and unprecedented investments it will make go a long way to ensuring that Oregon’s kids don’t have to experience the challenges I faced.”
Money from business activities tax
Businesses would be charged $250 and a 0.57% tax, but it would only affect those bringing in at least $1 million annually in goods and services. There are a number of exemptions and specifications outlined in the amended bill.
About 40,000 out of Oregon’s 460,000 businesses would be affected, according to a rough estimate given previously by Chris Allanach with the Legislative Revenue Office.
While there has been plenty of push-back from the business community, Sandra McDonough, chief executive officer of Oregon Business & Industry, told the joint committee they are neutral on the proposal discussed Monday.
“That small businesses … will be protected and we’ll still be able to invest in our children is a game-changer for me,” said co-vice chairman Rep. Smith, who still voted against the amended bill.
Rep. Helt also voted against it, saying, “I absolutely cannot support this unfair tax to small businesses.”
Gov. Kate Brown expected to sign
Wednesday is the earliest the House could vote on the bill.
If passed by the House, it goes to the Senate side. Because senators were part of the process to create the bill, it doesn’t have to go to a Senate committee first.
After passage in both the House and Senate, it would be sent to Brown for her signature.
Brown said she would sign the bill as is, but will continue to have conversations with legislators about providing more higher education dollars through other avenues.
“The governor is pleased with the work of the Joint Committee on Student Success, particularly the investment in early education and the committee’s focus on equity,” according to a statement released from the Governor’s Office.
“She plans to continue to fight to make sure there are adequate resources for higher education so it can be affordable and accessible to Oregonians.”
If the additional funding isn’t approved by May 8, teachers across the state are planning to stage walkouts and take various actions that day.
The bill will dramatically affect school districts as they plan their 2019-20 budgets.
If the governor’s proposed budget is passed, Salem-Keizer Public Schools, for example, is able to keep a current-service level model for its budget. If the co-chairs’ budget passes, the district would lose $3.5 million. However, if the new revenue comes through, the district could add to and expand services and programs.
For more information, go to https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/.
Natalie Pate | Statesman Journal