SALEM, OR -- Oregon lawmakers will continue to hear testimony today on how much of the state budget should be applied to public education. A steady stream of superintendents, teachers and parents testified before the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education Tuesday in Salem, all advocating for more than the proposed $7 billion in school funding.
Fifth grader Alfonso Bernal started school in Umatilla just as major budget cuts took hold. He testified that his learning experience has been much different than his sisters' who have now graduated. "When my sisters were in elementary school, they got to go to music class. I’ve never even had a music teacher. When my sister Priscilla was a fifth grader, she had 24 students in her class, and I have 33 in mine – and we’re not the largest classroom. When my sisters were in elementary school, they had art supplies and paper and pencils. Now, we have to hope that Walmart donates the unsold school supplies to our school because many of our families can’t afford to buy them for us and our school doesn’t have them."
Senator Tim Knopp (R-Bend) also testified, reading a handful of emails from Central Oregon educators. "’Please stop the madness of underfunding schools in our state. We sucked it up in 2008 when the economy tanked. We fell on our sword to try and maintain the system for those awful years.’ Another one, ‘I’m writing to urge support for state school fund of $7.25 billion or more. If that budget falls before that number, my district - which is Redmond – will be forced to cut days and staff members, as well as increase class sizes.’ Here’s another one: ‘In Oregon, we need to keep up with the rest of the country. We can’t continue to short-change our children.’" Sen. Knopp argued that an $8 billion education budget would get closer to the level of state spending when he was House Majority Leader, 12 years ago. "I think the highest we ever got was 44.9% of general fund and lottery, which was over $8 billion, if you apply the same percentage to today’s budget. I can just say, when I was majority leader, the Democratic minority said that was not enough. And, so, I’m saying it would be enough, so let’s try and get there." He also drew a correlation between stronger education funding and job growth.
Testimony is expected to continue through Thursday.