- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Democrats on an Oregon legislative panel voted Tuesday to advance a $7.255 billion spending plan for primary and secondary schools.

Education interests have criticized the budget as inadequate, warning it won’t provide enough money to improve Oregon’s lackluster graduation rates and will likely for some schools to cut school days or increase class sizes.

Democrats praised the budget as a stable funding plan that will allow most schools to continue with their current level of service. They say they’ll try to bolster the funding if lawmakers later raise additional revenue or the economy leads to stronger revenue projections.

The approval in the Ways and Means Education Subcommittee, which oversees school budgets, came unusually early. Education funding, which comprises roughly half of all state spending from the General Fund and lottery, is typically approved late in the five-month legislative session.

“As somebody with two kids in public schools, I feel good with passing a budget early and giving some stability and ability to plan to these districts,” said Democratic Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland.

The full Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to take up the measure on Thursday, setting up votes in the full House and Senate as soon as next week.

Republicans echoed the concerns of education interests, who say schools will struggle avoid cutting their programs despite pledges from Democratic leaders.

“I just cannot go along with a budget that’s gong to cut my kids more days, add more kids to the classroom and cut teachers,” said Rep. Jim Huffman, R-The Dalles. “I just can’t see how we can sit here and do that.”

Democratic leaders say schools are basing their doomsday scenarios on overly pessimistic assumptions about the revenue from property taxes, which supplements state in school district budgets. They say criticism from Republicans and interest groups ignores other needs in the budget.

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