SALEM, OR (KPTV) - Voters in Oregon approved legalizing recreational marijuana, sold partly as a way to help fund education.
The state collected a little more than $82 million in marijuana tax revenue last year.
The majority of that, 40 percent, goes to education. That’s around $32 million dollars toward schools.
“I think the schools need a lot of help,” said parent Yessenia Rodriguez. “They definitely need a lot of help, more money.”
So where does that $32 million actually end up? This is where things get a bit complicated.
The FOX 12 Investigators sat down with Ken Rocco, the state’s legislative fiscal officer.
He said the marijuana tax money goes into the state school fund, which technically does help fund school districts. But he said that $32 million isn’t technically on top of what the state already budgeted. It’s just one small source for the state education budget, so the state could use $32 million somewhere else.
“The number stays the same but the mix changes,” said Rocco.
Is the marijuana tax helping schools how you thought it would?
But was it represented that way in 2014 when Oregon Ballot Measure 91 was presented to voters and eventually passed, making recreational marijuana legal?
When FOX 12 asked Otto Schell, the legislative director of the organization Oregon PTA, he said they were concerned it was being overly represented as an additional solution to for school funding.
“The way it almost felt, you know, I didn’t follow it hyper critically when measure 91 was being launched, but the reality was, it felt like it was additional revenue for schools,” Schell said.
Parents and voters FOX 12 spoke with said they agree.
“It sounds like that was pretty confusing how it was framed when they kind of went through legalization,” said Eve Bell. “So yeah, I don’t think that’s very fair.”
FOX 12 also sat down with State Representative Barbara Smith Warner to ask if she thinks the marijuana money truly helps schools.
“I think the marijuana has been additive,” she said. “I think it has enabled us to increase those expenditures throughout the state school fund and so I think of it that way.”
“Could you make an argument that, oh well because of that, that’s money you’re freeing up somewhere else, sure, but that’s the thing about budgeting, because it’s such a big pit of money that gets divided in so many different ways, it’s really hard to say which is which,” she continued. “But I think the legislatures, we think about it as a way that we’ve been able to add some to our state school funding.”
When asked if the marijuana money is actually helping education in the way it was initially pitched to Oregon voters, she had this to say:
“Hmm, well I think the hardest thing for people to wrap their heads around is how much money we spend on education.”
That number is more than $8 billion dollars.
“We put $8.2 billion with a ‘B’ in the state school fund in the last 2 years, in the last budget cycle, and the marijuana money, $80 million dollars, doesn’t sound like quite so much,” the state representative said. “And that being said, it’s a meaningful, significant amount of revenue.”
Schell also agrees marijuana money was never meant to be the fix to funding education.
“So when we say, is lottery or marijuana tax paying for schools? Not really,” said Schell.
The marijuana tax revenue is only expected to grow over the years.
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