Oregon Voters Reject Permanent State Scholarship Fund


A measure that would have allowed the state of Oregon to borrow money for a scholarship fund to benefit students looking to attend college or career training has failed by a 3:2 margin.

Voters in the state last week defeated Measure 86, originally proposed as a way to help more students be able to afford college. The measure, titled "Oregon Fund for Post-Secondary Education," was supported by business, labor and pro-student groups, but there was no organized opposition.

The only one to offer a reason to not vote for the measure was Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute, which he wrote in the 2014 Voter's Pamphlet. Buckstein stated that more money should not be spent on higher education until the current public school system was brought up to date enough to allow students to succeed in their college careers. He suggested the money be used for K-12 schools, prisons and social services instead.

Buckstein said he was not surprised the outcome.

"Having taxpayers go in to debt to fund some college students' cost was not good public policy," he said. 

Currently, the state provides $250 per year to students enrolled in public colleges and universities, as need-based financial aid. That number is 60% below the national average.

The Oregon Legislature will now need to find funding for college financial aid through the general fund. Oregon's higher education commission would like to see the state's financial aid spending increase by about 60%, or $66 million, over the next two years. The state currently ranks 47th in per-student funding for higher education.

The proposal would have created a permanent endowment to fund higher education for the state. If it had gained voter approval, the measure would have been brought back to lawmakers for an allocation.

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who had backed the measure, was hoping to see lawmakers seed the fund with $100 million, which taxpayers would have paid back over the next 30 years. An endowment of that size would have generated $5 million a year for college scholarships and investment returns would have been higher than 5%.

Wheeler had spent and raised about $90,000 in promotions for the measure since at least early 2013, saying it had started a "vibrant conversation" about higher education that he plans on continuing even after the defeat.

""Measure 86 was a bold idea. In a state that can't seem to prioritize higher education, we came up with innovative ways to leverage non-tax resources to get the job done. Sometimes new ideas take time to catch on. Measure 86 sparked a vibrant conversation about higher education in Oregon," Wheeler said, in a written statement. "I am committed to continuing that conversation because we must do a better job of connecting Oregonians with the education and skills they need to compete in today's economy."

Despite the defeat, 9 out of 12 local school finance measures did pass, which included bonds for three community colleges, to be used for more traditional purposes of building construction or repair.

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