By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

With the passage of HB 3427, statewide and local unions as well as superintendents praised lawmakers for listening to their concerns and acting to increase educational funding. The Oregon Education Association (OEA) and the Oregon School Boards Association supported the bill.

Gov. Kate Brown signed the sweeping tax package set to raise more than $1 billion a year for schools Friday. The governor wrote in a tweet on Thursday, “this is a big day for our kids, and their future.”

Brown said schools will be required to use the funds to decrease class-size and boost student performance. Oregon has some of the largest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the nation.

Brookings-Harbor Education Association President Dane Tippman said members were excited to see Brown sign the bill.

“I have every reason to believe that bold and motivated action from unions across Oregon, including our local here in the south-westernmost corner of the state, influenced this win for education,” Tippman said.

A statement by senate Democrats called the act “turning the page on the state’s track record of low graduation rates and writing a new chapter where all of Oregon’s students can succeed.”

The Student Success Act – House Bill 3427 – increases funding for career and technical education, school counseling, longer school years and days and mental health services. It includes opportunities for school districts to develop programming tailored to their needs.

A component in the bill requires legislative reports and audits to ensure the money is being invested effectively and requires all funding go to hiring teachers and staff and purchasing supplies to serve students; not for covering the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) liabilities or any other costs.

Brookings-Harbor School District (BHSD) Superintendent Sean Gallgher said, “The Student Success Act has the potential to be a transformational investment in public K-12 education for Oregon. This is a very strategic investment that will allow districts to make meaningful investments that are very impactful on behalf of kids.”

Gallagher noted the impact to BHSD is estimated at $1.2 million, more than 6 percent of the district budget.

Funding will come from a corporate activities tax affecting Oregon’s largest businesses. Businesses with less than $1 million in annual taxable commercial activity will not pay a penny. For affected businesses, House Bill 3427 sets a $250 flat tax on the first million in taxable commercial activity and 0.57 percent on taxable commercial activity over $1 million. Taxpayers making less than $125,000 per year will see a reduction in their personal income tax rates and sales on groceries and fuel will not be taxed.

Statements in the bill’s analysis estimate revenues of $1.6 billion in the first biennium, with increases in revenue up to $3 billion in its third biennium.

Central Curry Schools Superintendent Tim Wilson said effective lobbying and growing public support certainly helped the passage of the bill. He added a list of potential uses for the money in his district has been shared with the school board including staffing a full time counselor at both the district’s schools, hiring a school nurse and adding a K-5 music and/or art teacher as well as other staff and programs.

Brookings-Harbor High School teacher Tim Buehler said, “How the district uses this money is up to them. We do not want more carry-over funds held unspent from year to year in our district’s budget. . . It would be nice to increase department budgets, which have not increased much in 28 years.”

“This is the culmination of 16 months of work, beginning with traveling across the state to hear what students, teachers, administrators, business leaders and community members have identified as educational priorities,” said Sen. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay).

Senate Republicans decried the bill, first walking out on Senate sessions to deny the Democratic supermajority a quorum for a vote on the bill and calling it “a leaky bucket being carried to a roaring fire,” and “a backdoor gross receipts sales tax disguised as an education funding bill.”

The GOP said without a constitutional amendment, the bill’s funds are not dedicated to educational purposes. In a statement, Republican lawmakers said, “The dollars from the tax can be used for education or anything else, depending on how the majority party would like to spend it. It is not guaranteed to education or K-12 programs like the Democrats have promised.”

Republican lawmakers agreed to end their walkout after Democrats agreed to quash a gun safety bill and a bill ending families’ ability to opt-out of school vaccination requirements for personal, philosophical or religious reasons. Both bills drew considerable opposition from a vocal Republican minority.

In a statement, Republican state Sens. Dennis Linthicum and Kim Thatcher said, “House Bill 3427 is ultimately nothing more than a PERS bailout that fails our students, teachers and society. The measure creates a new corporate activities tax, otherwise known as a gross receipts tax.”

The tax plan is modeled after Measure 97 which was soundly defeated at the ballot, according to the senators.

In a statement, the state’s largest teachers union, the OEA, celebrated the bill’s passage.

“Together, we are making history,” OEA president John Larson said. “Educators and public school families can start to breathe a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that instead of worrying about budget cuts, we can instead focus on the educational needs of our students and our future.”

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com

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