Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed two school spending bills on Thursday after reaching an agreement with legislative leaders to fund early childhood and higher education programs at the governor's requested levels.
SALEM — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed two school spending bills on Thursday after reaching an agreement with legislative leaders to fund early childhood and higher education programs at the governor's requested levels.
School officials have warned that the $5.7 billion in funding for K-12 schools will lead to drastic cuts including teacher layoffs, larger classrooms and shorter school years. The bills cover spending over the next two years and draw on $100 million from a savings account known as the Education Stability fund.
Some lawmakers and school officials have demanded that the state draw another $100 million from the stability fund to keep teachers in classrooms, but Kitzhaber was lukewarm about the idea in a media briefing Thursday. The legislature must approve an acceptable budget for all state services before he would consider signing any bills that take more money from the Education Stability Fund, he said.
"Is it a possibiliity? Yes," he said. "But we need to know what the rest of the budget looks like before we appropriate any additional funds," Kitzhaber said.
He also insists that additional education dollars go to students before they enter the K-12 school system and after they leave.
Kitzhaber's agreement with the Legislature could require the transfer of up to $76 million from the Education Stability Fund, which would further deplete the money available to transfer. And Kitzhaber was adamant that the fund have enough money to pay cover potential shortfalls in the two-year budget that begins in 2013.
The agreement with lawmakers means universities will get at least $743 million. Early childhood programs will get at least $770 million.
Kitzhaber acknowledged that the approved school spending is not adequate in the short term because of a $3.5 billion budget shortfall, but he said a serious investment in education should be possible as the economy rebounds.
"With the agreement...I think we've made an important investment in public education even in the face of a very difficult revenue situation," Kitzhaber said.
The governor has long contended that officials in Salem focus too much on the funding for K-12 schools to the detriment of other programs that he sees as equally important in educating students, including higher education and early childhood programs to get children ready for kindergarten.
Lawmaker have been eyeing a quarterly revenue forecast by state economists, who will estimate in May how much the state will have to spend over the next two years. Kitzhaber said he'd like to see any unexpected increase to go toward health care and social services, which are expected to absorb steep cuts after running out of federal stimulus dollars that propped up their budgets last year.