Use the Stability Fund now

Oregon's public schools are facing a financial crisis again, and school boards may soon make difficult decisions that reduce days of instruction and eliminate staff jobs.

Unfortunately, kids will be negatively affected and student achievement will decline. We worry that kids in Oregon will fall behind, and that the 2009 senior class will not have enough credits to graduate. We are concerned about child care if kids are sent home early, and fear that low-income kids will be deprived of school-sponsored breakfast and lunch. However, none of this has to happen.

A wide coalition of education partners are working to expose a revenue path that will ensure a full school year for virtually all students in Oregon. Public education's share of the $800 million shortfall is about $261 million, which is why so many schools are considering staff layoffs, reducing days, or both. That large number is daunting, and it could be larger if economic projections are worse than expected. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel that will mitigate nearly all of the education shortfall for this school year, while maintaining an investment in Oregon's future.

The Education Stability Fund currently has $393 million, which will cover the projected shortfall for the remainder of this school year. The fund is aptly named, and when used, will provide stability to our kids and our schools.

There are some legislators in Salem, though, who do not want to spend the stability money. They want to save the money for even harder times ahead. That logic makes as much sense as a dehydrated man in the desert refusing to drink water from his canteen because tomorrow may be even hotter than today.

The stability fund is not the only fund that will help Oregon's schools. Our share of the recently signed federal stimulus package will contribute an estimated $377 million to public education, and can be used for education stability in the 2009-'10 school year. Additionally, the Education Stability Fund will be renewed on an ongoing basis from lottery proceeds; the projection for the next biennium is conservatively estimated at $211 million.

Even though public schools have already made significant budget cuts this year, education leaders across the state recognize that there are more tough times ahead. Things will get harder before they get easier. However, immediate use of the Education Stability Fund will fill the 2007-09 education budget shortfall and give school boards the ability to properly plan for the difficult times ahead.

Schools in Oregon have lots of practice working with declining budgets, and when given proper time, can find a way to help students achieve at the highest levels. It just doesn't make sense to cut short this school year when the money is already there to keep schools whole.

Craig Prewitt is past president of the Oregon School Boards Association.

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