Lines Drawn In Salem Over Education Issues

The topic could prove divisive

The state legislative session begins Feb. 2. Several bills have already been introduced, and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) confirmed at City Club of Eugene last Friday that education will take top priority. The topic could prove divisive, even in Oregon’s Legislature with its Democratic majority.

Sen. Jeff Kruse, a right-wing Republican from Roseburg, says he likes the budget framework proposed by the Democratic budget co-chairs a lot more than the one proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber. Both plans increase spending on education and prioritize expanding opportunity for young Oregonians.

Kotek emphasized the need to focus more on career and technical education, skills training and expanding access to higher ed for all Oregonians. She has introduced a bill that would change the way eligibility for a childcare subsidy works. At a minimum, parents would qualify for a year’s eligibility, even if their employment status changed.

The budget proposed by Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), who co-chair the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Committee, allocates 51 percent of the general fund and lottery fund to education. Their framework proposes spending $200 million more on education than the governor’s budget does. But, unlike the governor’s proposal, which Kruse calls a  “wishlist,” the co-chairs haven’t yet put hard numbers on anything.

Part of the governor’s plan is to keep funding early learning hubs, which focus on early childhood education and pool community resources for children and their families.

Kruse says he objects to the state stepping in on people’s lives from “womb to tomb,” and says he is worried that adding new programs will “distract” people from the other programs in education that are already in place. “The focus for these young kids should be growing strong family units, not having the government take over,” he says. The co-chairs’ budget mentions increases in funding to the early learning hubs, but doesn’t indicate by how much.

Statewide full-day kindergarten is another area in the governor’s budget that Kruse and other Republicans have voiced opposition to. The school districts that don’t provide full-day kindergarten “are going to be losers in the funding formula,” Kruse says. The co-chairs’ budget does provide funding for implementing full-day kindergarten, but some rural schools don’t have enough space in their buildings to host all kindergarteners all day. The co-chairs’ budget suggests that the Legislature consider a temporary capital assistance program to help implement it.