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Bennett's Blog: 'Sine Die' to the 2013 legislative session Print E-mail

chuck-bennett.jpgby Chuck Bennett, Director of Government Relations

Within a couple of hours the legislative session will have ended – it’s called sine die, a bow to when we all took Latin in junior and senior high, I guess.

The final gavels will close the book on a legislature that made real strides in education funding and policy. After years of disinvestment in K-12 education, legislators grabbed the opportunity this year to add $400 million to the governor’s $6.15 State School Fund (SSF) allocation. That put the final figure for the SSF at $6.55 billion. Legislators also added a bill with PERS savings for education totaling about $200 million. That gives a total of $6.75 billion in cash and savings for K-12 education.

Throughout the session there were what proved to be unrealized hopes that legislators would add another $100 million in new revenue and enough additional PERS law changes to wipe out this year’s PERS rate increases. That would have brought the total amount of cash and savings to somewhere just in excess of $7 billion. Rumors of what became known as the “grand bargain” had the needed bipartisan majority ready to vote for it right up until they did in the Senate and the proposal failed by one vote. Even with that, there were rumors until Saturday night and Sunday morning that a deal on revenue and PERS had been struck. It wasn’t until Sunday there was a clear understanding the issue was dead.

Legislators also kept the so-called “carve outs” to a minimum by rejecting the governor’s request for over a $100 million in new programs off the top of the SSF and bringing it down to around $40 million. The new programs will include a substantial “educator effectiveness network,” and a series of “strategic investments” aimed at increasing student achievement. Initially the programs were to be administered by the Oregon Education Investment Board but the lawmakers decided instead to send the money and program responsibility generally to the Oregon Department of Education.

Legislators also took time to take on a number of policy issues including changes to the state’s open enrollment system, special education practices, inter-district transfer policies and a number of human resource related issues.

On Saturday legislators put an end to a union-sponsored attempt to further restrict the ability of school districts and other government entities to contract out services by allowing a greatly extended process that was subject to court review. The bill, SB 805, died in committee after being revived a couple of times during the session.

Small schools received a two-year extension of the high school grant program and for the foreign exchange student dormitory program used in several small districts.

A longstanding housing developer-driven dispute over boundaries between Hillsboro and Beaverton school districts will now require the services of a mediator to try to resolve what the legislature was unable to do – make the developer happy.

There will be a fairly small allocation of funds, not from the SSF, to fund some additional teachers in some “priority schools,” and Portland Public Schools will get some funds to assist with the costs for a group of high-cost, medically fragile students at the Providence Hospital.

In inter-district transfer law, it was clarified that districts cannot select students from specific neighborhoods or districts or deny students access because they are on an IEP. For open enrollment districts, they are no longer allowed to use their school grant funds to advertise or to send buses into districts to pick transport just open enrollment students.

Funds from tree harvests on the Elliott State Forest will now contribute part of the proceeds to a $400,000 fund to study the Marbled Murrelet, whose presence in the forest has greatly reduced harvest levels that contribute to the Common School Fund.

The legislature also established an interim task force to take a close look at the school funding formula and determine if it needs updating. We can expect a full review of the weights, transportation funding and small school grants as well as any new weights that might be added. COSA will be relying heavily on the OASE Funding Coalition to assist in developing positions on this in advance of the next session.

Under HB 3401 for the 2014-15 school year, school districts in three ESDs may request up to 65% of the formula distribution for ESDs attributable to the requesting district or up to 75% if the school district is able to provide evidence that the additional amount will be spent on services purchased from other ESDs; for the 2015-16 school year the amounts are increased to 75% and 85%; and starting in the 2016-17 school year, there are no limits. The amendment also establishes a workgroup to explore options for the optimal regional education delivery system and report back to interim education committees by November 20, 2013.
 
As you might expect, there are a substantial number of other bills that were passed or considered during the six month legislative session. COSA and OSBA will again prepare a detailed review of the bills and issues that were included and this will be sent to all school districts.

Generally, this was a good session for K-12. Schools and kids can always use more support, state funding for capital construction is not there yet and convincing lawmakers that education policy is best handled at the local level is an idea supported but with regular exceptions. What did work again was the creation of a strong education coalition that held together despite strong disagreements over labor and retirement policies. At this point I would predict we have not seen the last of the PERS and revenue debate. The issue is very likely to come up in the February session and could even prompt a special session in the fall if proponents can find a way to put together the necessary votes. We’ll keep you informed on this one.

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This page was last updated on Monday, July 08, 2013 .