SOUTH COAST — After two statewide marches in support of House Bill 2019, the bill bringing more funding to education was approved on Monday, May 13.
“I am beyond excited about this,” said Tim Sweeney, superintendent of the Coquille School District. “It is a tremendous thing for the children of Oregon. I’m very, very happy with what’s going on. Some of it surpassed my wildest expectations.”
In March, Sweeney and student delegates from the district traveled to Salem to meet with Gov. Kate Brown and other area representatives to discuss why HB 2019 was needed. Students shared personal stories surrounding the importance of a school psychologist, which would have been lost if the bill didn’t get passed.
Better known as the Student Success Act, teachers walked out of classes early from the North Bend and Coos Bay school districts to march in support of the legislation that would bring what some hoped would be $2 billion, but ended up being $1 billion added to the state education fund.
As Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, money from the tax is headed to three areas.
“At least half would go to grants to state school districts for programs aimed at improving things such as graduation rates, reading levels and attendance,” OPB wrote. “Around 20 percent would fund early childhood learning programs. The remaining roughly 30 percent would fund career-technical education programs and free meals at school for low-income students, among other things.”
In fact, those free meals for low-income students was an addition that Sweeney actually had a hand in. While he was listening in on a conference call with the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, their lobbyist mentioned a chance that $50 million a year could feed every child in the state.
At first, Sweeney didn’t know if he heard that right so he texted the executive director to verify. The answer was yes, he did hear that right.
“I said, ‘We have to push this to the top,’” he remembered. “That got into the funding. When we started this process, that wasn’t even on our radar. To have that show up is exciting.”
At the Coquille School District, the money received from this bill will also go toward adding more social and emotional health support.
“We want to start it at a younger age level,” Sweeney said of adding more school psychologists. “Some of this won’t start right away because we won’t see this money until 2020. We want to ensure that our students have the emotional support they need not only at school but when they graduate and move on. Doing more for our students' social and emotional well-being is going to be a huge deal.”
One of the district’s top priorities with these new dollars is to have stable funding in place for its child development center.
“We’ve been running that out of our general fund the last three years,” Sweeney said. “We want to have an allocation set aside for that and that is huge for us to offset those costs.”
There will now also be full funding of Measure 98, now known as the High School Success Act, that helps fund Career and Technical Education programs. What this means for Coquille is it will offer students opportunities that the district hasn’t been able to afford.
“Overall the stabilizing effect it has on our budget will take care of a lot of sleepless nights to afford what we try to do here in Coquille,” he said.
In the Coos Bay School District, Superintendent Bryan Trendell told The World in an email that the newly approved Student Success Act is a large investment in the district.
“It is a huge investment in our schools and we will work hard to make sure the investment is the most beneficial for our kids and our community,” he wrote, adding that the district’s leadership team of administrators and staff members from each building, district office staff, and the Board of Directors hold regular meetings to identify areas of need and focus for our district.
Trendell said that this format will be utilized to determine the best way to “invest in our Coos Bay schools.”
“Coquille played its part,” Sweeney said. “We didn’t sit back and let it happen, we actively participated. I’m proud of our staff and students who talked to these legislatures and governor and shared their stories. It’s a big day. Having Senator (Arnie) Roblan champion that for our students was a big deal. He’s done amazing work. The governor’s done amazing work. I can’t give out enough accolades to everyone.”