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Politics & You

What to Expect from the 2013 Legislative Session

This January, members of Oregon’s 77th Legislative Assembly were sworn into office.  The 60 members of the House of Representatives and 30 members of the Oregon Senate began their work officially on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 at the State Capitol in Salem.

This session, Oregon sees a change in leadership with Tina Kotek (D – Portland) as the newly elected Speaker of the House and a chamber now holding a pro-public education majority. Our hope is that this Legislature will begin to undo damage done to our public education system and start to reinvest in our schools and community colleges.  Here’s a quick look at OEA’s top issues:

Restore Education Funding
The 2012 election results show that Oregonians are more than willing to fund their schools – we saw support for local bonds and levies across the state and candidates who ran on a platform to restore funding for public education came out ahead.

Our hope is that the Legislature will follow Oregonians’ lead and put the highest priority on adequate education funding.

K-12 school districts across the state are dealing with crisis budgets. We’re nearly $3 billion short of what we know it takes to help students succeed. We’ve lost 7,000 educators in the last three years.  Class size in the elementary grades has increased by nearly 20 percent and nearly 29 percent in high schools.  The state’s priority should be on lowering class size and restoring funding for our schools. Budgeting for new, “targeted investments” and programs should take a back seat to budget restoration.

We must look to re-invest in Oregon’s 17 community colleges so they can continue to provide Oregonians the skills, training and education they need to get back to work.  This means ending the erosion of full-time faculty and renewing the community colleges’ mission of providing educational access to students and middle class families by lowering tuition.
In addition to advocating for a level of funding for community colleges that improves access and affordability, OEA will also be urging the legislature to establish a post-secondary Quality Education Model, which would serve as a research-based tool to help determine what community colleges need to effectively serve all students.

Addressing the class size crisis in Oregon schools
As educators, you have seen firsthand that there is a crisis in Oregon classrooms. Class size has skyrocketed and as a result, students are not getting the individual instruction they need to succeed. Currently Oregon collects inadequate data on class size that does not tell the real story of what students and educators are experiencing.  A critical first step to addressing the class size crisis is gathering accurate data that reflects true class size in our schools. OEA will ask the 2013 Legislature to enact a bill to accurately track class size in the future. We need to fully understand our students’ learning conditions.

OEA is also launching a campaign to help Oregon’s elected officials and the general public have a better understanding of the reality of what is happening in our classrooms. Visit our Class Size Campaign page!

Fixing Oregon’s Broken Revenue System
Oregon must move to end the boom-and-bust budget cycles that for too long have shortchanged our students and schools.  It’s time to close loopholes and consider new revenue to narrow the education funding gap. Oregonians want meaningful solutions to our flawed revenue system and they want their tax system to be more fair and equitable.

Our state currently gives out $32 billion in tax breaks every biennium. We saw a $3.4 billion increase over the last biennium alone. OEA will be encouraging the Legislature to reverse this trend and to take a close look at ending outdated, unfair and unnecessary tax expenditures so we can reinvest in our schools.

Honoring Oregonians’ vision for public education
Oregonians are fed up with overcrowded classrooms, skyrocketing tuition, and the elimination of valuable school programs. They’re also fed up with unfunded mandates and misguided ‘reforms’ that are not research-based or proven to help increase student achievement. 

The current policy discussions happening at the Oregon Education Investment Board are out of alignment with the Quality Education Model and are out of touch with what Oregonians want and expect from and for their schools.
Oregonians believe it’s time to bring the education policy discussion back to where it belongs – in local communities and with the Legislature, which is elected to represent local communities. We need to let local school communities have a voice in setting their own priorities to meet the needs of their students.

This means rejecting the corporate reform agenda and the one-size-fits-all, harmful approach that continues to over-emphasize standardized testing and completion rates as the only measures of student success. We believe there are ways we can better support educators in their work to help students succeed. OEA will be keeping a close watch on education policy proposals that arise during the session to ensure that they align with Oregonians’ values and are the right thing to do for students.

Retirement  Security
Despite the sacrifices you’ve already made in wages, benefits and working conditions, we can expect the Legislature to engage in a conversation around changes to the retirement system for public employees.

There are a number of proposed changes to PERS already being discussed, including the Governor’s proposal to amend PERS to place a cap on the amount of COLA benefits paid to retirees, limiting COLA increases to the first $24,000 per year of benefits. This proposal will have an impact on both current retirees as well as all active members who will retire in the future. It is estimated that for the ‘average’ teacher, the Governor’s COLA proposal would cost more than $180,000 in lost retirement income over the course of their lifetime.  Calculate the impact to your individual pension.

Oregonians understand that PERS is not the cause for our decade-long disinvestment in public education. While we recognize that the unfunded liability of PERS – much of which is a result of the economic collapse - poses a challenge to the state and local school districts, our hope is that legislators will apply a set of reasonable criteria when considering changes to PERS. Our hope is that these changes:

  • Save actual money in the short term while still maintaining the health and affordability of the system in the future.
  • Are constitutional. We can’t go back on the promises made to Oregonians who have worked hard their whole life. It’s wrong and it will end up costing us millions in litigation.
  • Are fair. We can’t create a system of winners and losers, and we can’t unjustly punish working and middle class families for a problem that Wall Street created.