K-12 public schools in Oregon enroll more than 575,000 students, with 44% in poverty, 11% learning English, 26% minorities, and annual expenditures of a little under $5.5 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
In a series of cases beginning in 1976, the Oregon courts have consistently declined to strike down the state’s various school funding schemes against challenges under the uniformity and equal protection provisions of the state constitution, as well as challenges under more recent amendments to the state constitution.
In January 2009, the Oregon Supreme Court found that the legislature had, in violation of a 2000 constitutional amendment, failed to fund the Oregon public school system at a level sufficient to meet the quality education goals established by law. However, it concluded that the state constitution did not give the court authority to issue an injunction requiring the state to provide sufficient funding to reach those goals.
In 1976, in Olsen v. State, the Oregon Supreme Court declined to find that education was a fundamental right under the Oregon Constitution, and concluded that local control provided sufficient justification for substantial deficiencies in educational opportunities. The court also held that the state constitutional requirement for "a uniform and general system of common schools," is satisfied when "the state requires and provides for a minimum of educational opportunities in the district and permits the districts to exercise local control over what they desire, and can furnish, over the minimum."
In 1991, in Coalition for Equitable School Funding, Inc. v. State, the court held that a state constitutional amendment “Safety Net” provision "contemplate[d] and permit[ted]" district differences in taxation and spending and "explicitly direct[ed] school districts to meet state standards with property taxes."
Most recently, in 2009, in Pendleton School District 16R v. State, the court concluded that a 2000 amendment to the state constitution requiring budget appropriations for education “sufficient to ensure that the state's system of public education meets quality goals established by law” was not judicially enforceable.
“The Legislative Assembly shall provide by law for the establishment of a uniform, and general system of Common schools.” Ore. Const. art. VIII, § 3.
“Provision shall be made by law for the distribution of the income of the common school fund among the several Counties of this state in proportion to the number of children resident therein between the ages, four and twenty years.” Ore. Const. art. VIII, § 4.
“The Legislative Assembly shall appropriate in each biennium a sum of money sufficient to ensure that the state's system of public education meets quality goals established by law, and publish a report that either demonstrates the appropriation is sufficient, or identifies the reasons for the insufficiency, its extent, and its impact on the ability of the state's system of public education to meet those goals.” Ore. Const. art. VIII, § 8.
In Olsen v. State the Oregon Supreme Court stated “We are of the opinion that Art. VIII, s 3, is complied with if the state requires and provides for a minimum of educational opportunities in the district and permits the districts to exercise local control over what they desire, and can furnish, over the minimum.” 554 P.2d 139, 148 (Or. 1976).
In Pendleton School District 16R v. State, the court first agreed with plaintiffs’ contention that “the word “shall” in Article VIII, section 8, imposes an absolute duty on the legislature to appropriate a specified level of funding for the public school system.” 200 P.3d 133, 139 -140 (2009).
That said, however, we cannot ignore the other part of Article VIII, section 8. That part requires publication of “a report” by the legislature that either (1) asserts that the legislature sufficiently has funded the public school system (and explains why the legislature believes that to be true); or (2) acknowledges that the funding falls short of the constitutional goal, but explains the legislature's reason for choosing the lower level of funding and the extent and impact of the insufficiency. The existence of the reporting requirement demonstrates that Article VIII, section 8, contemplates the possibility that the legislature might not fund the public school system at the constitutionally specified level in a particular biennium.
Thus, the text of Article VIII, section 8, presents two seemingly contradictory concepts. On the one hand, Article VIII, section 8, directs the legislature to fund the public school system at a specified level. On the other hand, Article VIII, section 8, contemplates the possibility that the public school system will not be funded at the specified level and that the insufficiency would remain. The text of Article VIII, section 8, does not explain how to reconcile the two.” Id. at 140.
The court therefore chose to individually evaluate each particular form of relief that plaintiffs had requested and determine whether that relief is consistent with both parts of Article VIII, section 8. The court explained:
“We conclude that the courts may grant a declaratory judgment that the legislature failed to fully fund the public school system, if that is the case. A declaration to that effect would be consistent with the first provision of Article VIII, section 8, which directs the legislature to appropriate funds sufficient to meet legislatively established goals. Conversely, a declaration that funding is insufficient is not inconsistent with the reporting requirement of Article VIII, section 8, which requires the legislature itself to admit any underfunding.” Id. at 141.
However, the court concluded that it could grant neither a declaratory judgment that the legislature must fund the public school system at the levels required by Article VIII, section 8, nor an injunction requiring the legislature to fund the public school system at those levels, because it held that those forms of relief are not consistent with the reporting provision of Article VIII, section 8. The court explained:
“The reporting provision of Article VIII, section 8 contemplates the possibility that the legislature will not fund the public school system at the legislatively specified level in a particular biennium and provides that, in that instance, the legislature will report its failure to the public. The report is not simply an admission that funding is insufficient; instead, Article VIII, section 8, directs that the report must “identify[y] the reasons for the insufficiency, its extent, and its impact on the ability of the state's system of public education to meet those [specified educational] goals.” By requiring the legislature to explain its failure to meet the constitutional directive, Article VIII, section 8, negates plaintiffs' claim that the duty to fund the public school system at a certain level is enforceable by the injunction that plaintiffs seek. If the courts were to enforce the funding of the public school system at the level identified by Article VIII, section 8, then it would not matter what the legislature's reasons were for failing to do so. If the courts were to enforce the funding of the public school system at the specified level, then the deficiency could not “impact the ability of the state's system of public education to meet those [specified educational] goals,” because the courts would not permit the deficiency to continue.
A declaration or injunction requiring the legislature to fund the public school system at the levels required by Article VIII, section 8, thus would not be consistent with the reporting requirement. Therefore, Article VIII, section 8, does not permit a declaration or injunctive relief of the kind that plaintiffs seek here.” Id. at 141-142.
The court then went on to consider the meaning of Article VIII, section 3. It rejected plaintiffs’ argument that Article VIII, section 3, incorporates the quality goals established by the legislature under Article VIII, section 8 and then wrote:
“We conclude that the wording of Article VIII, section 3, requires the legislature to establish free public schools that will provide a basic education. We agree that Article VIII, section 3, requires that the legislature provide a “minimum of educational opportunities.” Olsen, 276 Or. at 27, 554 P.2d 139. However, the legislature's failure to fund the public schools sufficient to meet the quality goals established by law does not demonstrate that the legislature has ipso facto failed to provide a minimum of educational opportunities. Moreover, plaintiffs' allegations that insufficient funding has produced a number of negative conditions in the public schools that they describe as “inadequate” are insufficient to claim that the public education system is no longer uniform.” Id. at 144-145.
Education Law Center submitted an amicus brief in Pendleton School District 16R v. State which discussed the meaning of the “uniform and general” education provision of the Oregon Constitution, Art. VIII, §3. The brief also summarized the historical background of the education clauses that appear in all 50 state constitutions and the manner in which numerous sister states ruled in similar cases under these analogous education clauses.
The Oregon Head Start Pre-Kindergarten Program is rated an exceptionally high 8 out of 10 on the established quality indicators but only served 8% of 4 year-olds and 5% of 3 year-olds in the 2009-2010 school year.
The Oregon pre-K statutes give high priority to quality early childhood education programs because of their economic and social benefits.
The Oregon Department of Education administers the pre-K program through public schools, Head Start agencies, and private nonsectarian child care centers. All program centers must follow federal Head Start program standards.
The program focuses on providing services to low-income children, ages 3 and 4, who meet Head Start eligibility (family income below the federal poverty level) but are not participating in a program of comprehensive services. However, 20% of the slots can be used for children from families who do meet the Head Start eligibility requirements.
The program is funded through legislative appropriations made to the Prekindergarten Program Trust Fund. These funds are distributed to school districts, Head Start agencies, and private, nonsectarian providers through a competitive grant process administered by the state Department of Education.
The State Board of Education gives priority to grants for counties or regions that have identified unmet needs in their local early childhood system plans. Grants may be used to establish and maintain new or existing pre-K programs, and may not be used to supplant existing, federally funded Head Start programs.
While significant enrollment expansion has occurred in recent years, the program has suffered from recent budget reductions. In 2008-2009, the last half of the budget biennium, a budget reduction of 1.1 percent was taken. During the 2009-2011 biennium, all state agencies were required to take a 9 percent reduction, which affected both state pre-K and Early Head Start programs.
The program does not require any fees or co-payments from participants.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Oregon served only 8% of all 4-year-olds and 5% of all 3-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2009-2010.
The program meets an exceptionally high 8 out of the 10 NIEER benchmarks.
The program does not require that teacher assistants have Child Development Associate degree or that teachers have a Bachelor’s degree, failing these NIEER benchmarks.
The program does have a limited class size, an appropriate student to teacher ration, and screening and referral services. In addition, there is a monitoring and site visit program and provide at least one meal a day to participants.
Washington operates the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), which is targeted primarily to low-income 4-year-olds.
ECEAP is rated an exceptionally high 9 out of 10 on the established quality indicators but served only 7% of 4-year-olds and 2% of 3-year-olds in the 2009-2010 school year.