The Oregon House passed a $2 billion package to improve the state’s education system, which suffers from some of the highest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the country. The Democratic supermajority in the House passed the bill on Monday, April 29 along party lines, 37-21.
Education reform plans began over a year ago, when Governor Kate Brown created the Joint Committee on Student Success to design a “commercial activities” tax to fund early education through high school. The bill itself calls for a 0.057 percent tax on gross receipts on businesses which have more than $1 million in sales within the state.
Supporters claim this is an “historic” package that will reverse decades of disinvestment in the state education system, and enable schools to lower class sizes and bring in more resources to address behavioral and mental health issues.
Republican opposition in the legislature called for the state to deal with the unfunded public pension liability (PERS) before spending additional money on education, and expressed concern about raising consumer prices and putting pressure on small business.
The Oregon Education Association, who are organizing statewide teacher walkouts in a “Day of Action” on May 8, supports the bill, citing the example of a school in eastern Oregon which only has access to its library for 30 minutes a day, and uses 30-year-old band equipment.
“Educators have done a really great job in keeping up the facade that schools are able to do more with less without impacting the quality of education,” Larson told reporters. “We are to a point now that we can’t do that anymore.”
The bill now heads to the Senate for deliberation.
By Ian MacRonald