Legislature clashes over school funding

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – House and Senate budget leaders said Monday they agree on most of their recommended state budget but are deadlocked on its biggest piece – state school funding.

Democratic budget chiefs in the Senate are holding out for $5.325 billion for K-12 school support, $150 million more than leaders in the Republican-run House will accept.

Though the difference represents little more than 1 percent of the budget, an accord on school support is key because that item comprises more than 40 percent of general fund-lottery spending.

All told, budget leaders from the two chambers are roughly $230 million apart in a budget that will be capped at about $12.4 billion.

Leaders of the Joint Ways & Means Committee traditionally draft their own budget, spelling out their differences with the governor’s budget.

But House and Senate leaders scrapped plans to make a joint announcement Monday. The sides rolled out separate proposals after a weekend of negotiating failed to yield an agreement on school spending.

Subcommittees will work on the revised plans, and further changes are likely.

"I would be surprised if this budget survives intact," Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, Ways & Means co-chairman, said of the Senate leaders’ plan.

Both plans give universities and community colleges enough money to avoid the tuition increases that Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s budget assumed would be needed.

House and Senate Democrats had sought $5.4 billion for K-12 school funding, which education advocates say is the minimum needed to avoid teacher layoffs and curtailed school years in any district.

Kulongoski is recommending $5.25 billion, but has indicated he could endorse a higher figure.

Schrader said he and Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, Senate vice chairwoman of Ways & Means, could not go lower than $5.325 billion.

"We could not sell our children any more short than we have over the past six to eight years," he said.

The 2003 Legislature allocated $5.2 billion for schools, a figure that was cut to $4.9 billion after voters defeated a tax increase last year.

Rep. Susan Morgan, R-Myrtle Creek, House vice chairman of the budget panel, said the Senate school funding proposal "has a detrimental impact on the rest of the budget."

The House plan, for example, has more money than the Senate version for programs to help seniors and disabled people in assisted living and foster care and to help some stay in their homes.

Morgan said the difference between the House and Senate school aid proposals, spread statewide, amounts to money for less than one teacher per school.

John Marshall, lobbyist for the Oregon School Boards Association, said it would be hard to assess the effects of the two proposals on the state’s 198 school districts. The Portland School District would get $15 million more from the Senate proposal, he said.

"If the goal is to assure there would be no cuts, neither figure gets us there," he said.

Another obstacle to a budget agreement is that House leaders want to leave $130 million unspent in reserve, $45 million more than suggested by Senate leaders.