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Oregon education leaders call on lawmakers to “fully invest in public education”

Following the release of Oregon’s quarterly economic forecast on Feb. 24, education leaders and advocates released a statement calling on lawmakers to “fully invest in public education from pre-school through post-secondary education. ” P-20 investment, in other words. 


The statement argues such investment would bolster Oregon’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and improve the state’s overall economic health. Multiple groups, including Oregon’s Public Universities and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) were behind the statement.


The statement also calls for “full funding for investments in the education sector that create opportunity and promote racial, social and economic equity for Oregon students.”


“[Portland State is] joining with the state’s other public universities in advocating for funding for the P-20 system,” stated Vice President for University Relations Kevin Neely in an email. “Each component of the system operates independently, but they build on each other. We want our class of 2037, which is starting Pre-K now, to be college ready in 13 years. That is the main thread of the effort—don’t defund or underfund one part of the education system to shift it into another part.  Oregon must fund the full range of our public education system if we are to close historic income disparities and imagine a more equitable economy.” 


“The education advocates at the pre-school, K-12, and post-secondary education levels came together as a sector to advocate for our budgets in an expression of solidarity and unity,” stated PSU-AAUP Vice President for Legislative and Political Action Ramin Farahmandpur in an email. “We are not advocating for a structural reformatting; we simply understand that our shared interest in full funding across the various levels is based in our commitment to serving our students well throughout their lives.”


According to the statement, a study by ECONorthwest in 2002 found a “fundamental relationship” between education and the economy. 


“Education dollars continually flow through local communities, generating additional spending and job creation,”  the statement reads. “That study, which was reaffirmed in 2009, noted that K-12 public education alone is the state’s largest employer.” 


According to the statement, Oregon was expected to experience a $1.8 billion shortfall for the 2021–23 biennium, and “education advocates note that the state can close this gap with a blend of federal, state, and local resources, bolstered by judicious use of reserves, federal dollars, and common-sense revenue adjustments.” 


The economic forecast, however, noted there is not a $1.8 billion shortfall. According to the executive summary of the forecast: “Immediately following the start of the pandemic, the revenue outlook was revised down by around $2 billion. As of the current forecast, this hole has completely been filled. The new outlook calls for a bit more revenue than was expected before the recession began.”


Because of this, P-20 investment is expected to be even more feasible. 


According to President of the Oregon School Employees Association Lisa Gourley in the statement, “the willingness of policymakers to commit resources to protect the state’s fragile cradle-to-career public education system may determine whether the impact of COVID-19 is measured in years or in generations.”


Oregon State University President F. King Alexander stated: “A proven strategy to stimulate sustained equitable economic recovery and personal prosperity following an economic downturn is to make critical investments in a state’s education sector. Economists nationally have demonstrated that investments in public education from Pre-K-12 through higher education provide short-term economic stimulus while also contributing to lifelong benefits for learners and society, including career success and earnings, wellness, increased community engagement and less poverty.”


PSU is in the market for innovation. Due to the pandemic, the university—along with many public universities across the country—is facing sinking enrollment and other budgetary challenges. P-20 investment could help PSU mediate these challenges.


According to Farahmandpur, “PSU’s particular mission, to equitably serve its diverse student body, is well-served by our joint efforts to pursue funding that accounts for increased costs, holds the line on tuition for greater access, and ensures educational program quality. Fully funding our request for Oregon’s colleges and universities will help us achieve those goals.”


According to PSU President Stephen Percy at the Executive and Audit Committee meeting on Feb. 25, the presidents from Oregon’s seven public universities met with Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Feb. 24 to discuss “strategies to create more innovation in higher education.” 


“I think this is a helpful sign from the Governor suggesting that this is the time to be innovative,” Percy said. “It was a general sense of, it would be a good time to work together to create innovations that will help support the state and support higher education. Our hope would be to create a comprehensive plan that we work together with the governor, with legislatures, so that we have a common vision for higher education in the state.” 


At this time, Oregon education leaders and advocates have requested that Brown provide $900 million in total investment for higher education. The 2019 Student Success Act invested $2 billion into K-12 education. The act did not invest in higher education, and since then, according to Percy, Oregon’s public universities have been trying to figure out how to secure more investment. 


At the Executive and Audit Committee meeting, Percy said he feels optimistic that Brown will honor the request for $900 million in higher education. Additionally, Farahmandpur stated that, after the release of the economic forecast, the coalition of education advocates were “pleasantly surprised to learn that the revenue picture had changed, and that the State Legislature now seems to have the resources it needs to honor our funding request of $900 million.”


However, Farahmandpur went on to say this is just a “snapshot in time.” 


“The final decisions depend upon the May 15 quarterly forecast,” he said. “If, between now and then, a variant strain of the virus or some other emergency besets the state, this good news could be fleeting. We fervently hope that the news continues to be positive, and that the vaccine, combined with Oregonians’ continued safe practices, will keep the good news coming.” 


“If the latter is the case, we believe that enrollments will increase by next fall, and that the state’s financial commitment to higher education will help to compensate for any enrollment gaps that may remain, so that our universities are able to stabilize tuition and other costs and to deliver the educational opportunities our students expect and deserve,” he concluded.