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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.

Confirmed Cases: 32994

Reported Deaths: 547
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah7204138
Marion469594
Washington454060
Umatilla298741
Clackamas242061
Malheur163327
Lane123417
Jackson11615
Deschutes85212
Yamhill76213
Jefferson5418
Polk53215
Linn52213
Morrow5056
Lincoln48213
Union4462
Benton3146
Wasco2963
Klamath2802
Hood River2520
Douglas2334
Clatsop2170
Josephine1982
Columbia1791
Coos1570
Baker942
Crook621
Tillamook530
Lake330
Curry310
Wallowa311
Sherman180
Harney120
Grant100
Gilliam80
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 812711

Reported Deaths: 15633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2684556515
Riverside589321206
San Bernardino54482925
Orange534481216
San Diego46734776
Kern31994369
Fresno28441382
Sacramento22356406
Santa Clara21241314
Alameda21240406
San Joaquin20245441
Contra Costa16640206
Stanislaus16471356
Tulare15970263
Ventura12775150
Imperial11852317
San Francisco11195101
Monterey995372
San Mateo9897150
Santa Barbara9090113
Merced8872142
Kings765180
Sonoma7412122
Marin6730118
Solano640065
Madera453965
Placer358745
San Luis Obispo356229
Butte283344
Yolo281555
Santa Cruz23609
Sutter170511
Napa169013
San Benito134811
Yuba11537
El Dorado11304
Mendocino93418
Shasta88317
Lassen7400
Glenn5783
Tehama5735
Lake55511
Nevada5377
Colusa5316
Humboldt5088
Calaveras31714
Amador29616
Tuolumne2274
Inyo18815
Mono1662
Siskiyou1650
Del Norte1391
Mariposa752
Plumas500
Modoc270
Trinity160
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
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