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Report: Oregon's Lag in Funding Hurts Students

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Oregon ranks 35th in the nation for education funding. (Oregon Education Association)
Oregon ranks 35th in the nation for education funding. (Oregon Education Association)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
August 29, 2016

SALEM, Ore. — Decades of shrinking budgets for Oregon's public schools has led to some of the largest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the country, a new report says.

Along with a statewide study of Oregon's many funding gaps in education, authors of the report at Oregon Education Association compared Salem, Massachusetts - one of the better-funded school districts in the country - with Salem, Oregon.

Per-student funding in Oregon's capital trailed its counterpart by more than $6,000. John Scott, a middle-school teacher in Salem, Oregon, said large class sizes have been especially detrimental to students' education.

"It's a challenge when it comes to your class management, just managing all those kids, all those bodies, all those personalities,” Scott said. "It's a challenge when it comes to that one-on-one opportunity with students, from students who need additional help and students who need the opportunity to be challenged in a one-on-one way."

On average, there are 10 more students in Salem, Oregon, classrooms than those in Salem, Massachusetts, according to the report. Oregon's graduation rate also lagged behind the Bay State by 10 percent.

Oregon ranks 35th in the nation for school funding.

Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association, said schools' dwindling budgets have also effected elective classes, which are important to student engagement.

"It's made us make decisions that don't offer programs like P.E., music, art, career and technical, those things that excite students and inspire them to learn,” Vaandering said.

Funding for Infrastructure is also lacking. A 2014 task force found that Oregon schools had more than $7 billion in deferred maintenance costs. According to the state's education funding model, schools are facing a $2 billion gap over the next two years.

An initiative on the 2016 ballot - measure 97 - could address many of the schools' funding problems with revenue generated by a 2.5 percent
sales tax on businesses that make more than $25 million in Oregon, Scott said.

Critics said the cost to companies from the new tax would be passed on to consumers. But Scott said he believes it’s the duty of businesses to invest in local schools.

"We expect mom-and-pop shops and everyone else to invest in our education system through our taxes paid,” he said. "The folks that are making $25 million or more, they should invest in our students' futures as well."

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