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By Ian K. Kullgren July 8, 2011

The education budget is set; can it remain stable?

When we last weighed in on this promise, Gov. John Kitzhaber had just proposed a "stable funding floor” of $5.56 billion for Oregon's K-12 public school system. (Scroll down for the details.)

Now that the Legislature has passed a schools budget and closed shop, how did the proposal fare?

Pretty well. The Legislature moved a bit more to schools than the governor suggested -- the total budget was around $5.7 billion -- but the numbers are pretty close.

What's more the governor was able to persuade Democrats to approach funding from a different direction, something Republicans have been pushing for years.

In the past, Democrats usually advocated an approach that looks at the difference between the money they have and the money they need to keep current services operating. Republicans said lawmakers ought to take a look at how much money the state has and appropriate it where it can do the most good.

It's that last approach that the governor embraced in his budget, the framework for lawmakers of both parties during the session.

"They seemed to have caught that vision,” said Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican. "We made progress not only in how we budget but also in moving toward strategic budgeting from an executive level as well.”

The other big change is that lawmakers didn't wait until the last part of the session to pass this budget. They got it out early -- giving schools more time to plan their own fiscal year.

That said, we're not about to call this a Promise Kept. It seems, right now, that the governor has done a good job of managing expectations and setting the education budget at level that won't see setbacks even if an economic recovery isn't around the corner.

Still, that's all conjecture. We'll have to wait and see how this budget fares over the next two years and whether this new approach actually works out. For now, this is a promise that stays In The Works.

Our Sources

The Oregonian, "A Democratic dust-up over schools,” April 22, 2011

Senate Bill 5552, April 21, 2011

Senate Bill 5553, April 21, 2011

Interview with Rep. Dennis Richardson, June 28, 2011

By Ian K. Kullgren February 4, 2011

Kitzhaber has laid out a funding base for schools, but will it last?

Tracking the state"s school budget is no easy task. Economic forecasts consistently show the state bringing in less than expected, forcing lawmakers to chip away at the budget. Meanwhile, when Congress is feeling generous, federal funds have occasionally come in to make up for some of the losses.

All of this movement -- up and down, but mostly down -- has left schools in a precarious situation, budgeting with one number while wondering whether they"ll have to readjust later on.

Throughout his campaign, Gov. John Kitzhaber said the fluctuations in education spending had to stop. He promised voters that, if elected, he"d "make education funding stable.”

That"s a tall order and one open to different interpretations.

With his proposed budget, however, Ktizhaber begins to address this promise. He allots $5.56 billion to Oregon"s K-12 public school system. This, he writes, "establishes a stable funding floor.”

It"s a start. What remains to be seen, then, is whether the Legislature will back this total and whether whatever economic issues might shake the state budget going forward also affect the education budget.

We"ll move this promise to "In the Works” with an eye on education funding as the governor"s term progresses. We"ll also be talking to the state"s schools to see whether they feel their situation becomes more stable over the coming years.

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