Kulongoski calls for increased higher ed funds

Amidst big changes for healthcare and alternative energy in the state, Governor Ted Kulongoski proposed increasing educational spending in his State of the State address Friday.

Kulongoski proposed that 61 percent of the general fund be spent on all levels of education, a figure currently at 59 percent. The budget would then increase by at least 10 percent every two years thereafter.

“We have to keep investing in post-secondary education – through public-private partnerships, new research facilities, and a permanent endowment to help Oregon students cover the cost of their education – and make up for the decades-long disinvestment in higher education in Oregon,” Kulongoski said during his speech.

This being an election year, literature provided at the event pointed to the progress the governor has made already for the 2005-06 school year; funds were made available so that every Oregon college student eligible would receive an Oregon Opportunity Grant.

“There has been a significant increase in the funding for that grant,” said Kenneth McGhee, Portland State’s financial aid officer. “Across the country all the states are struggling for funding within their budgets, so I commend them on that, especially in a tight budget cycle. It was a good thing that needed to be done and they did so,” McGhee said.

“Our first priority was to take care of current students. Next we asked ourselves if we should take on more students or try to add more funds for individual students as it was made available,” said James Sager, the governor’s education adviser. An $87 annual increase is slated for next year.

The governor has further decided to expand these grants to part-time students, and will then consider increasing individual amounts as funds are made available within his new budget. Students attending summer school will also be considered.

Governor Kulongoski unveiled his “Education Enterprise,” which reacts to the recent recession and budget cuts of the past few years. He plans to put the state back on track to long-term and focused investments in education. This includes creating a stability fund for use if the general fund should exceed 10 percent growth in a budget cycle. One-third of this amount would go into an investment account that would be administered by the Joint Boards of Education, protecting the state if tax revenues decrease.

This “Enterprise” proposes uniting the elements of Oregon’s educational system into a single entity and commits to fulfill the need of every Oregonian, whether first-time or non-traditional student. A goal is to standardize transferability of credits within all of its institutions.

Kulongoski expressed a particular concern to keep the workforce strong and trained for the needs of today’s high-tech jobs, focusing on keeping community colleges strong and enabling easy transitions to state universities.

“We’ve worked out the process with the financial aid office in Clark County [Community College] and we’re still working on a five-college consortium with Portland Community College, Chemeketa, Mt. Hood and Clackamas where records are easily transferable. Progress is being made in that area, but we’d like to see it online and really smooth,” McGhee said.