- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon legislative leaders said Monday that they’ll push ahead this week with a schools budget criticized as inadequate by education interests.

House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, both Democrats, said it’s important to provide school districts with certainty as they develop their budgets, noting that more money can always be added later if it materializes.

The school funding bill is scheduled for a vote Tuesday in a budget subcommittee, potentially reaching the full House and Senate as soon as next week.

“I think Oregonians need to know that we’re prioritizing K-12 with the actions we want to take this week,” Kotek said. “It would be foolhardy and irresponsible of school districts not to support a guaranteed floor that will give them certainty.”

If the next revenue projection, due in May, shows the state will have more money than is now anticipated, 40 percent of the additional revenue will be dedicated to K-12 schools, Kotek and Courtney said.

The Democratic leaders say their $7.24 billion budget provides enough money for most school districts to avoid cutting services. Their latest plan is $5 million more than their initial proposal, unveiled in January. They also said they’d dedicate $12.5 million to help students learning English and $2.5 million to give more students free lunch.

Interest groups representing teachers, school administrators and others have sharply criticized the Democratic spending plan, saying many school districts would be forced to reduce school days or lay off teachers. They’re requesting an additional $260 million.

With schools on spring break, several dozen teachers and parents were in Salem Monday to appeal to lawmakers for more funding. Barbara Wickham, a 7th grade science teacher in Hillsboro, told The Associated Press that she’s used a crowdfunding website to raise money for classroom supplies.

“I’m just wondering if I should start saving over the summer to fund my program,” said Wickham, who was working with the Oregon Education Association to make the case for more money.

In a meeting with reporters in the speaker’s office, Kotek and Courtney sounded exasperated with the pressure being applied by education advocates, who are usually strong allies of Democratic leaders.

“I don’t know how you ever come back from that, short of putting in all the money in the General Fund to them,” Courtney said. “And yet I haven’t taken care of the State Police. I haven’t taken care of the jails. I haven’t taken care of the community colleges. I haven’t taken care of human resources.”

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