Oregon’s Kitzhaber Proposes $800 Million More for Education


Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has proposed an extra $800 million for the state's next two-year budget plan for education.

The money would come from changing around spending formulas to increase the budget from $17 million to $18.6. The additional money is proposed for an update to the state's pre-K program to improve reading skills and creating a smoother transition to the workforce.

Education in the state currently uses about half the budget, which comes from tax-supported funds and lottery proceeds. Beginning July 1, public schools in the state will share $7 billion in state aid for the next two years.

However, Kitzhaber proposed that an additional $130 million be used to better prepare pre-Kindergartners for school, an additional $220 million be used in the creation of full-day Kindergarten programs in all districts, and $85 million to go toward improving reading skills to allow for 95% of third-graders to be reading at their level or higher in five years.

"The state's role in education has got to change from that of simply a passive funder, based on enrollment, to active strategic investment in outcomes," he said. "That's exactly what this budget seeks to do."

The budget would also include money for items discussed during the Oregon Education Investment Board meeting a few weeks ago. These measures include improving graduation rates for high schools and colleges, in particular among English language learners, as well as making a smoother transition between school and work life.

Kitzhaber would like to see a 5% increase in high school graduation rates, which are currently at 69%, as well as a 2.5% increase in college completion rates.

Dani Ledezma, Kitzhaber's adviser for education policy, said there is currently no plan to punish districts. However, state spending formulas would be changed in order to benefit schools who make an effort to keep ninth graders on the path to graduation, begin their own career and technical education programs, and help students leave behind English-learning programs.

The presidents of all seven of the state universities in Oregon have since asked lawmakers to return state support to 2007 levels, before the economy forced cuts to be made.

"All Oregonians deserve a fair shot and while this budget is a step in the right direction it will not do enough to control tuition, expand access, and position Oregonians for a lifetime of opportunity," they said. "Jobs are driven by growth in Oregon's industries, and they demand a diverse pool of college graduates. Oregon needs to rebuild a strong middle class with a workforce that is trained for today's economy. This isn't free."

The proposed budget has been submitted by Kitzhaber and must now go through an approval process with lawmakers.

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