SEVERE WX : High Wind Watch - Wind Advisory View Alerts

Oregon House approves tax on businesses to fund schools

Oregon lawmakers in the House on Wednesday approved an extra $2 billion investment for the state's struggling school system, which suffers from some of the highest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the nation.

Posted: May 1, 2019 5:45 PM
Updated: May 1, 2019 5:55 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers in the House on Wednesday approved an extra $2 billion investment for the state's struggling school system, which suffers from some of the highest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the nation.

After more than five hours of floor debate, the chamber voted 37-21 on the package, which would raise $1 billion per year through a half a percent tax on some of the state's wealthiest businesses. The money would be used to fund school initiatives focused on boosting test scores, increasing class time and expanding mental and behavioral health services.

It's shaping up to be a major win for Democrats who were able to use their supermajority to wrangle a three-fifths vote for one of their major priorities this session. The tax package now goes to the Senate. But even if it is approved through the legislative process, it's possible that opponents will move to put the issue to the ballot.

"We have endured two generations of children that have experienced education far below than what they deserve," said Rep. Nancy Nathanson, a Democrat from Eugene who is one of the co-sponsors of the measure. "We can't delay anymore."

Republicans took issue with the modified commercial activities tax lawmakers are proposing to fund the program. The package calls for a .057% tax on gross receipts for businesses with $1 million or more in sales, which make up less than 10% of all businesses in the state.

Opponents said the tax will cause price hikes on consumer goods and doesn't exempt enough agricultural operations. They also said lawmakers first need to address Oregon's unfunded public pension liability before putting money into the education system.

"Businesses are going to close," said Rep. Kim Wallen, a Republican from Medford. "Pitting businesses against schools just isn't the way we do things in Oregon."

The vote came exactly one week before thousands of teachers across the state will protest during a day of action to bring attention to the condition of Oregon's public schools, which educators said has reached a breaking point.

The Oregon Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, said schools have been underfunded for the past 30 years, causing class sizes to swell. The state has some of the largest class sizes in the country, as well as the nation's shortest school year and lowest graduation rate.

John Larson, the Oregon Education Association's executive director, said the funding problem has gotten so bad that many schools have been forced to cut P.E. and other extracurriculars.

Other schools, he said, no longer have full-time librarians, counselors or nurses. He notes one rural school in eastern Oregon where students only have access to the library 30 minutes a day and use band equipment that's over 30 years old out of a lack of funding.

"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," said Larson. "We are to a point now that we can't do that anymore."

Lawmakers toured the state since last January, meeting with teachers and students to craft a funding package that addresses some of the biggest issues facing the education system while also allowing districts the flexibility to tie spending to the needs of individual public schools.

Half of the expected revenue will go to statewide educational initiatives and early learning programs, including more funding for preschools and special education.

The rest of the money — approximately $1 billion every two years — will go directly to school districts, who must submit plans to the legislature on how they will use the funds to boost educational performance, support diversity and expand mental and behavioral health programs. Schools with high poverty levels will receive more money, and all districts will have to prove that student outcomes are actually improving.

"We are finally going to do the things we need to do to get our school system back on track," said Rep. Rob Nosse, a Democrat from Portland. "We are going to create a new, stable source of funding so that the next generation will have the tools they need to succeed."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 153645

Reported Deaths: 2162
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah31669515
Washington20962209
Marion18246282
Clackamas13260170
Lane10096122
Jackson8198108
Umatilla760081
Deschutes589358
Yamhill373962
Linn354455
Malheur333658
Polk300642
Klamath276554
Douglas237551
Josephine228849
Benton227816
Jefferson193427
Coos138518
Union126919
Columbia123221
Wasco121825
Lincoln112320
Hood River106029
Morrow103613
Crook77118
Clatsop7706
Baker6397
Curry4106
Tillamook4062
Lake3746
Harney2726
Grant2221
Wallowa1424
Gilliam531
Sherman520
Wheeler221
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3543340

Reported Deaths: 49888
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles118349620069
Riverside2885413695
San Bernardino2850812651
Orange2598573848
San Diego2578053218
Santa Clara1095061747
Kern102137786
Fresno945841397
Sacramento926211446
Alameda797961200
Ventura76947805
San Joaquin662901042
Contra Costa61865653
Stanislaus55487937
Tulare47680731
Monterey42016323
San Mateo38552502
San Francisco33947394
Santa Barbara31630398
Solano29882161
Merced28749393
Sonoma27845295
Imperial26840587
Kings21916218
Placer19661231
San Luis Obispo19500221
Madera15325201
Santa Cruz14516174
Marin13083197
Yolo12689185
Shasta10950172
Butte10855158
El Dorado906995
Napa895068
Sutter881896
San Benito572358
Yuba571936
Lassen559419
Tehama506852
Tuolumne392959
Nevada390974
Mendocino379043
Amador343840
Humboldt313633
Lake310740
Glenn220723
Colusa212513
Calaveras190225
Siskiyou172013
Inyo127835
Mono12084
Del Norte9765
Plumas6516
Modoc4504
Mariposa3937
Trinity3525
Sierra990
Alpine800
Unassigned00
Medford
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 43°
Brookings
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 47°
Medford
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 9°
Feels Like: 43°
Medford
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 43°
Klamath Falls
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 23°
Another sunny afternoon
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events