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: 356061

Reported Deaths: 4275
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55695704
Washington38673322
Marion36719454
Clackamas29660309
Lane27624302
Jackson22982310
Deschutes20211125
Umatilla14451150
Linn12780130
Douglas12065243
Josephine9349196
Yamhill8674113
Klamath7965118
Polk733681
Malheur561776
Benton546531
Coos501294
Columbia379744
Jefferson372352
Union318449
Lincoln318039
Crook287546
Wasco287441
Clatsop243329
Baker202529
Tillamook196432
Hood River192137
Morrow184423
Curry180025
Harney113726
Grant100013
Lake92412
Wallowa68612
Gilliam1544
Sherman1503
Wheeler1121
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4842472

Reported Deaths: 71202
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles148181426506
Riverside3712935030
San Diego3660564183
San Bernardino3582135663
Orange3241845550
Sacramento1593332308
Kern1459621644
Fresno1458772084
Santa Clara1453911896
Alameda1205301400
San Joaquin1025821721
Ventura1009841166
Contra Costa998841008
Stanislaus860701331
Tulare80203967
San Francisco54375646
San Mateo54112622
Monterey50885587
Solano46021341
Santa Barbara45160523
Merced42299581
Sonoma40925402
Placer39342425
Imperial35999766
Kings32801322
San Luis Obispo29945332
Madera23876285
Shasta23851352
Butte23738270
Santa Cruz21018220
Yolo20353248
Marin17692244
El Dorado17169149
Sutter13913175
Napa12882100
Yuba1008582
Tehama9510110
Humboldt9243108
Nevada914290
Mendocino763687
Lassen754347
San Benito744472
Tuolumne688089
Lake6605104
Amador544064
Siskiyou450546
Glenn436733
Calaveras389381
Del Norte358342
Colusa307218
Inyo211140
Mono16703
Plumas16417
Mariposa133416
Trinity87711
Modoc6865
Sierra1880
Unassigned1820
Alpine1030
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