Sponsored by Oregon Business

What is the education stability fund for?

| Print |  Email
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This is, by almost any measure, the worst economic recession since the great depression. The recession has hit Oregon public schools particularly hard, given their dependence on the state's general fund and the general fund's dependence on income taxes. Because of the volatile nature of education funding in the state, the Education Stability Fund (ESF) was created to help cushion the blow to schools from economic downturns.

Given all that, why are legislators so reticent to spend all of the ESF? Why create a fund you are reluctant to use at the very moment it was designed for?  Here is The Oregonian's Kimberly Melton on recent developments in the state legislature:

In recent weeks, there is growing legislative support for giving K-12 schools some additional money, likely $50 million to $100 million from the education reserves. In everyday terms, that money could pay for up to 1,100 teachers or a full week of school for all students in the state.

In March, the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means recommended a $5.7 billion budget for K-12 schools, but said they would consider an additional $56 million for 2012-13 if the economy improves. But advocates haven't given up, saying that money is needed immediately to help blunt devastating reductions.

Their goal is still the additional $100 million they asked for initially, but as end-of-session negotiations intensify, many say $56 million is turning into viable middle ground that could help meet a variety of needs. The $56 million figure would give schools the same amount that they received for 2009-11.

I honestly don't understand the thinking behind not spending all you can. Research shows that temporary disruptions, such as large classes, even for just a year or two have long lasting impacts on student performance. The economy is recovering (albeit painfully slowly) so it is unlikely we'll need the ESF in the near future - but students are suffering now.

The state's Education Stability Fund is intended to help buffer schools during an economic recession. Three-fifths of each legislative chamber must approve any action to remove any of that money -- expected to grow to $300 million over the next two years. State legislators can tap the fund only in times of economic crisis or if the governor declares an emergency. As the state revenue forecasts begin to improve, some advocates fear that lawmakers will not be able to make those funds available during next year's session, as they originally intended.

"I think everyone can agree that there's at least $56 million available for K-12," said Democratic Majority leader Dave Hunt. "It's in the Education Stability Fund. Do we leave it under a mattress or invest it in our kids? I think that's an easy choice."

Indeed, but why only $56 million?

Economist Patrick Emerson is the author of the Oregon Economics Blog.



0 #1 Any Connection Between $$ and PerformanceLisa 2011-06-01 10:58:19
Emerson claims that a year of large classes has long term results and infers that all we need to do is shower more dollars upon what may be failing schools to improve studen performance.

Any evidence this is the case? It's easy to make such claims and assume no one will question the assertion. I've seen evidence to the contrary, that increasing budgets does not improve student performance and among the WORST performing schools in the nation are those in DC which have among the highest budgets.

Yes there are problems in our schools but tossing money at them is unlikely to result in improvements without a deeper analysis of the real problems resulting in uneducated students.

FWIW I went through grade school with classes ranging from 30 to 36. One teacher. No aids. How DID they do it back in the Stone Age when we were neither so wealthy or enlightened.
Quote | Report to administrator
0 #2 Spending Money ThoughtlesslyLisa 2011-06-01 11:08:02
Emerson's suggestion that we "spend all we can" IS the very reason we are in this mess. He asserts that a year of large classes has impact for years to come and that more money will automatically improve performance. Oh really? And pray tell where did that information originate? If that were the case those schools with the biggest budgets would be most successful...Wa shington DC anyone?

There have been numerous articles of late detailing the ever increasing cost of education, and the ever declining performance of our students. To simply toss money at failing schools without any consideration of what might actually work is a recipe for more debt, higher taxes, and a more sluggish economy without benefitting students or using taxpayer funds wisely.

It's not that our schools are lacking in resources. I volunteered for a reading program at a local grade school and was amazed at the small classes and multiple levels of teacher assistance. Teacher Aids, Administrative staff, Counselors, Reading Specialists, plus several Vice Principals and a Principal. The classes were far smaller than in my lost youth. I went through grade school with 30 to 36 kids per class. One teacher. One principal. One secretary for the entire school. How DID I get an education with such limited resources? Emerson's attitude is scary. I hope he doesn't have much influence or authority to spend my tax dollars.

Maybe a review of what has worked in the past and what is NOT working now before dumping more of our tax dollars down the ever deepening hole.
Quote | Report to administrator
Richard Leonetti
0 #3 Spending expands to match funds--in PortlandRichard Leonetti 2011-06-01 13:39:43
More money does not necessarily get more resources in the classroom. Portland School District #1, who has been crying the loudest, is a good example. Their new operating levy of $57 million was a 60% increase over the expiring levy and was advertised to provide for 600 teachers (at $95.000 each) The terms of their new 2 year contract provide raises of 7% in salary (range is 2% to 8.6%) and their budget plans expect a 16% increase in benefits (Their benefits costs go up 16% but all of the increase is picked up by the School District) The bottom line is compensation costs over the 2 years will go up 23% raising the average teacher, for example, from $90,041 to $98,922. You might also note since these are percentage raises so the large dollar raises go to a single top bracket of about 28% of the total number of teachers, bringing all of their costs to well over $100,000. Oh, and did I mention these salaries come with a full set of paid holidays and 12 weeks of paid vacation.
Quote | Report to administrator
+1 #4 RE: What is the education stability fund for?BH 2011-06-01 14:37:37
The only reason the recession "hit Oregon public schools particularly hard" was that they failed to react accordingly and adjust to live within their means. Throwing more money at the problem is NOT the solution - that only works with explosives.

Like Lisa, I spent grades one through six in classes of at least 30 students with one teacher, no aids or parent volunteers. What we had then that we lack now are high standards and no stupid experimental educational methodologies that cost lots of money and don't work. The teachers taught, and when they went to seminars, it was during the summer months when it didn't disrupt class.

We don't need to spend more, we just need to make the most of the huge pile of money we're already spending. One way to do that is abandon the fads and get back to basics.
Quote | Report to administrator
0 #5 more money for a system with 62% efficiencyjohn 2011-06-02 13:59:05
I recall a recent article about Salem-Keizer's school budget, where they wanted to point out that 62% is spent in classrooms!!! a whole percentage point better than Portland or Beaverton!!! Before I jumped to conclusions I checked several of those budgets. Transportation and Buildings needed to be accounted for (12%) So 28% is 'other' 'overhead' 'management' or ? Richard above is very right. Between Local Option$ and Federal Stimulu$ districts have gotten very distracted and wasted a lot of money. If they kept track of core functions, funded at the core state funding level there would be much less pain. Let's start with getting 'other' to 10% or less. 18% of $5.7B is a billion $ !
Quote | Report to administrator
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02