Educators celebrate Student Success Act, gun control bill supporters disappointed

Salem-Keizer Public Schools Superintendent Christy Perry told KATU News the district expects to receive $35 million per year thanks to the bill. (KATU Photo)

Educators are celebrating the passage of the Student Success Act on Monday and already have ideas of how to spend the new influx of money they’re expecting.

If Gov. Kate Brown signs the bill, it would raise an estimated $2 billion for education through a tax on Oregon businesses.

Salem-Keizer Public Schools Superintendent Christy Perry told KATU News the district expects to receive $35 million per year thanks to the bill.

“This is the first major investment in this way, in education, since Ballot Measure 5,” said Perry.

Perry said she is accustomed to cutting school budgets. She is happy to see new funds.

Perry told KATU News they have several ideas of what they can do with the money, but they will go through an intensive planning process to make sure the money will be spent well.

When asked how they might use the funds, Perry told KATU News they would look at more school counselors, more mental health counselors, lowering class sizes, and lengthening the school year.

“We have plans at every level that we could think in terms of how do you provide resources directed at the right kids,” said Perry.

Provisions in the Student Success Act would also direct funds toward early childhood learning.

“Already in Salem-Keizer we serve about 900 students in our preschool programs, but we also know we have huge numbers on our waiting lists,” said Perry. “For Salem-Keizer, our kids come in at about half the state average for kindergarten readiness, so one really important strategic investment for us to impact readiness is more preschool programs.”

It took a political deal between Senate Democrats and Republicans to pass the Student Success Act. Republicans had walked out for several days to prevent a vote on the bill. On Monday, they returned for the vote after Democrats agreed to kill a large gun control bill and a vaccine bill.

Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, told KATU News she was disappointed to see the gun bill killed.

“Initially, I didn't believe it,” said Okamoto. “Because it's such a strong, solid bill. SB 978 had a lot of backing, backing from the Attorney General's Office.”

SB 978 had several components, including a requirement for secure storage in a home, regulating what are considered “ghost guns” and raising the legal age of purchase to 21.

On Tuesday, Okamoto was critical of Democrats.

“Where is the leadership on this issue? You do not have to pit money for kids’ education versus a law that is going to save the lives of kids. There is no reason to pit those two against each other, that’s ridiculous,” she said.

She hopes the Senate takes up SB 978 once again.

Terry Parks, a manager at Tick Licker Firearms in Salem, said killing SB 978 was a victory, albeit brief.

“I was thrilled,” he said. “I, along with tens of thousands of other firearms owners in Oregon, have sent our share of letters and responses to all our senators, congressmen, and representatives.”

Parks disagreed with several provisions in the gun bill.

“The criminals, regardless of what laws we have, are not going to abide any laws, new, old, or proposed,” Parks said.

He said opponents, like himself, can celebrate for a few weeks, but he expects Democratic senators to reintroduce similar bills in the next session.

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