Proposal could benefit some Oregon public school districts, but not others

SALEM — More than 120 Oregon school districts would see a drop in their state funding next year, if a proposed plan to change how state officials calculate the number of students living in poverty takes affect.

The remaining 75 school districts would see a funding boost.

Currently, the amount of state funding a school district receives is based on calculations from a formula that factors in additional costs for certain students, including those who are eligible for special education, in an English as a second language program or in a low-income family.

Lawmakers passed a bill in the last legislative session that allowed the Department of Education to update how officials calculated the number of students in poverty.

The state agency currently determines the number of children in poverty families using data from the 2000 U.S. Census, the proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, and changes in enrollment.

Now, the agency wants to use the U.S. Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, a statistical model based on data from federal tax returns, a nationwide annual community survey and a food stamp program. The new formula also uses student enrollment data to account for the percentage of students attending public school.

Michael Elliott, the state school fund coordinator for the agency, told House Education Committee members Wednesday that the new data set would show a more accurate represen-tation of the number of students in poverty.

Under the current system, participation numbers can be misleading — for example, some high schoolers don't participate in the program because of concerns about being viewed as poor.

Some lawmakers said they still have questions about the new poverty funding calculations.

Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, noted that school districts in counties with some of the highest unemployment rates, such as Crook County, would lose state funding under the new calculations.

"I don't understand this. This doesn't make sense. I think we need to look at this. We need to re-evaluate what you're doing," Whisnant said.

Losses in funding from declining enrollment and weights for other types of students could offset any extra dollars a school district would receive from having more students in poverty, Elliott told lawmakers in response.

"That's usually what's happening," he told lawmakers. "We're seeing districts that are probably in declining enrollment or using 2012-13 (weighted average daily membership)."

The plan still would need approval by the State Board of Education this winter.

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