Lawmakers try to avoid shortened school year

Updated, 10:35 a.m. SALEM — Democratic legislative leaders today announced a plan to use $50 million more in federal stimulus money to help school districts avoid cutting days from the current school year.

Previously, lawmakers had proposed cutting $100 million from current elementary and secondary school budgets — on top of $65 million in cuts already made.

Education advocates strongly opposed the original plan, saying it would mean, on average, five fewer days of school for Oregon students.

Under the plan announced today by House Speaker Dave Hunt and Senate President Peter Courtney, K-12 education must still take a $54 million cut in the current budget.

“We hope that districts who are contemplating a reduction in days will meet us halfway and do whatever they can to avoid any lost days due to the recession,” Hunt said in a prepared statement.

In response, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators said the legislators’ latest plan still falls short of keeping all schools open for the full year.

“We could still be going from an average of shortening the school year from five days to three days,” said Chuck Bennett, lobbyist for the group. “It will be a district-by-district situation. They will all take different strategies.”

Bennett and other education officials had urged lawmakers to use more of the federal stimulus money or take dollars from state reserve funds to avoid cuts altogether.

But legislative leaders and Gov. Ted Kulongoski have warned that the state must marshal its resources for a looming budget shortfall much more devastating than this one in the next two-year budget. The latest revenue forecast pegged the shortfall at $3 billion for 2009-2011.

Courtney said the school funding plan announced today “represents an opportunity for local school districts to partner with the Legislature to preserve school days this year and our limited reserve funds for use over the next two years.”

— The Associated Press

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