Oregon bears the mantle of the second highest class sizes and second shortest school year in the nation. And yet, the governor has established ambitious goals for student achievement — specifically that 100 percent of Oregon students will graduate from high school, 40 percent will have a two-year or technical degree, and 40 percent will have a four-year college degree by the year 2025.
State funding for education is largely dependent on income tax and drops dramatically during a recession. The kicker law makes it difficult to put money away in good times to protect education funding in downturns.
Property taxes are much more stable, but limits on tax rates and assessed values keep collections low; less than a third of total school funding comes from local sources. It is unlikely that Oregon voters will ever approve a sales tax. Federal dollars under programs such as the Secure Rural Schools Act are drying up.
How can these two seemingly divergent paths cross? How can Oregon produce the graduates we need for growing a highly skilled workforce given the federal, state and local funding constraints?
There are two great opportunities this week for Jackson County residents to find out how.
First, the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) will be holding a community forum from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the North Medford High School commons.
The Education Funding Team has released its summary recommendations to the governor (http://1.usa.gov/TbfWg7). The EFT was charged with prioritizing investments that transform and improve delivery of education despite limited resources. These "strategic investments" would be funded before the State School Fund dollars. The OEIB is seeking community feedback on those priorities which can be summarized as follows:
1) Developing and supporting professional educators.
2) Improving early childhood literacy (achieving benchmark by 3rd grade).
3) Supporting students and families to close the achievement gap.
4) Promoting flexibility, innovation and individualized learning, thus creating skills for global success.
Second, Stand for Children is holding its fourth Education Summit from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at Jackson Elementary School.
Gov. John Kitzhaber's education policy adviser, Ben Cannon, will share the governor's and OEIB's map for improving student achievement in a keynote speech. Then breakout sessions will delve deeper into "Proficiency Grading" (part of Strategic Investment No. 4) delivered by Debbie Connelly and Hector Santiago, both of the Medford School District, and Teresa Sayre of the Phoenix-Talent School District, and "Improving Teacher and Principal Evaluations" (Strategic Investment No. 1) delivered by Dan Jamison of the Chalkboard and CLASS projects and Ashland School District's Karen Green.
Parents and teachers will also have a chance to weigh in with Superintendent Phil Long and Board Chairman Jeff Thomas on a new proposed Medford School District budget-building exercise, based on innovative best practices for community engagement from other districts in Oregon. Early registration for this free forum is encouraged. Visit www.Stand.org/oregon/medford and sign up there.
Education reform is arriving fast in Oregon. Decisions are being made now that will affect our students for decades to come. Be a part of the process and let your voice be heard.
Karen Starchvick of Jacksonville is chairwoman of the Rogue Valley chapter of Stand for Children.