Oregon school funding expert: State should consider directing more money toward low-income students

The Oregonian
By Betsy Hammond
September 30, 2015

Egged on by a state senator, Oregon's top expert on school funding told lawmakers Wednesday that the state should seriously consider directing a bigger share of school funding to help low-income students.

Currently, the state allocates 25 percent more money for a student living below the poverty line than one living above it --  roughly $8,750 for the poor child versus $7,000 for the other.

Brian Reeder, Oregon's assistant state superintendent for research and data analysis, said, "Looking at that (25 percent)... is very seriously called for." Some states that have deeply examined the question found that schools should receive 150 percent to 200 percent the normal funding level to education a low-income student, not 125 percent as Oregon does, he said.

Reeder was testifying before a joint legislative committee on public school funding. He made his comments in response to remarks by Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, who represents rural and smalltown portions of Marion, Linn and Clackamas counties.

Girod said, given the poor outcomes for low-income students in Oregon, the extra 25 percent is "way too low" and should be raised immediately to 50 percent.

This year, just 41 percent of low-income students scored proficient in English on the new Smarter Balanced tests, compared with about 60 percent of not-low-income students. In math, just 29 percent of low-income students scored proficient compared with about 50 percent of not-low-income students.

In the class of 2014, 81 percent of not-low-income students graduated in four years versus just 64 percent low-income students.

A school must deliver more instruction and demonstrate far higher levels of teaching skills and student support to get low-income students to read, write, do math and graduate from high school at the same rates as better-off students. That is why Oregon allocates more money to educate a poor student than one who isn't poor.

Child poverty is a huge problem in Oregon.

If Oregon were to direct more funding to high-poverty districts, districts that serve few impoverished students would get less.

Rural Oregon, for example, has far more students living in poverty than metro Portland does. A few districts -- Riverdale, Lake Oswego, West Linn and Sherwood -- have extremely few students living below the poverty line.

Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, noted that every effort he has made to consider changing Oregon's school funding formula has run into opposition because those who benefit from the current system don't want it changed.

-- Betsy Hammond