I could spin numbers all day about the value of education—and draw into that web the reasoning that a public dollar spent on education is a future dollar saved; namely, by creating a productive and self-sufficient person who doesn't rely on municipal services—whether those are jail, welfare or hospitals—and, yes, Republicans, paying taxes.
But really, arguing that more spending on K-12 education is a wise investment is something akin to arguing that global warming is real. Except for the crackpots and cranks, every study, number and personal story backs up that "theory."
Yet, on Monday, the Oregon State Senate pulled the rug out from underneath a much-needed spending increase for Oregon's K-12 education. The proposed spending package amounted to $6.5 billion. With the current legislative session winding down, agreeing on the school budget is an essential piece of the budget pie—and, more broadly, a critical statement about how our public officials value and promote education and all of its attendant benefits to current students and future residents.
Even so, the Senate voted 15-15 to stall out the bill. Even though the proposed budget would have added $1 billion to K-12 education, it hardly can be considered extravagant. Really, it is simply necessary. (If you really want to have a debate whether education in Oregon is underfunded, please feel free to file your complaints at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This week's Boot goes to state Sen. Chris Edwards, who represents the Eugene area. He was the sole Democrat to vote against the proposed bill. His vote foiled the budget's chances.
Ostensibly, the vote (besides Edwards') was along party lines, R versus D, and rationales lined up along traditional philosophical ideals. After the defeating vote, Democrats like House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) released terse statements: "Today the Legislature had an opportunity to begin reversing over a half decade of cuts to Oregon public schools. This was an opportunity to rebuild our schools, to stop teacher layoffs and reduced school days. I'm disappointed that some in the Senate were willing to say 'no' to students and parents who want to know whether their teacher will come back next year."
On the other side of the equation, opponents urged cuts to bring the budget into alignment. It was a fairly traditional spending-versus-saving argument that often defines legislative attempts to balance budgets.
But there are two troubling flaws with the argument for cuts. First, opponents quickly took cover by hiding behind the idea that funding for PERS should be crimped (i.e., cut). While such fat-trimming may, at first blush, seem reasonable, in fact, such cuts to public employees' benefits are short sighted and undermine the ability to attract and retain future quality teachers. Explained further: Compared to employees in the private sector with similar qualifications, public employees are commonly underpaid; not to mention that the service quality teachers provide is invaluable. Decent benefits and retirement packages, quite simply, are incentives to hire and retain school teachers.
The second shortcoming with opponents' argument starts with the premise that by voting down the education budget, they were handed a hostage and a bargaining tool for future budget negotiations. Case in point: Immediately after the vote defeating the education vote, two Republican state senators proposed a new budget that would cap business tax at 7 percent rather than the current 9.9 percent.
Shame on you, Sen. Edwards, for handing over the power for the Senate to increase spending on education. The way the Legislature chooses to spend the state's budget is how we, as a state, nurture our values and our future. We'd rather spend money on education than giving businesses tax cuts. Here's THE BOOT.