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Student Success Act kicks off with new hire

SALEM — Oregon’s ambitious and costly plan to transform its public schools begins with one person.

On Thursday, the first employee — one of dozens — charged with putting the Student Success Act into action joined the state’s education department.

Lawmakers voted in May to raise new tax dollars to boost the amount of money flowing toward Oregon’s public schools by $1 billion every year.

It’s a major effort to increase academic achievement, improve students’ mental health, boost high school graduation rates and improvethe long-term prospects of Oregon kids.

That first employee, Tamara Dykeman, will coordinate, plan and put into action the programs paid for by the Student Success Act, according to the job description.

While she has myriad duties, much of the work will involve shepherding the agency through the landmark new program.

Dykeman, who previously worked as an analyst for the legislative policy and research office, is expected to work with multiple teams, offices and divisions of the education department and advise department leaders on how the agency can innovate, grow and improve.

She will report to the department’s director and deputy superintendent of public instruction, Colt Gill.

Among her other duties, Dykeman is also supposed to foster relationships inside and outside the agency, bringing together students, teachers, school districts and other interested people and groups to make the legislation effective.

The money raised by the new tax will support new and ongoing state efforts to renew Oregon’s flagging public education system.

Those efforts range from increasing preschool slots to helping Latinx, Native American and black students do better in school to cutting class sizes.

Over the next year, the department plans to hire about 70 new workers to make the expanded programs run, including grant managers and research analysts.

Lawmakers authorized $25 million to pay for those positions, contracts and “other costs necessary” to implement the law.

Legislators directed the department to improve education for Oregon students who aren’t being adequately served by its public schools, Gill said.

For example, a good share of the money will go to school districts and charter schools for “student investment.”

The state will apply the same formula the state normally uses to distribute money for schools, but with a key tweak.

The process will be weighted to account for poverty in a given school district to boost the education money available for poor students.

“I think that’s a critical aspect,” Gill said.

Districts have to have a plan for spending the money that has been approved by the education department to get the extra state money, according to legislative records.

Those positions will include auditors to check that all that new money is spent properly.

“The Legislature was really clear around designing the implementation of this process around two things,” Gill said. “One is that we keep equity at the forefront, and the second is that we are accountable for the public dollars that we’re spending.”

Local school districts won’t start seeing the new money until the 2020-21 school year.

Gill noted that the Student Success Act is the state’s largest investment in education in at least three decades.

“It’s one that we are diving into as quickly as possible, but as cautiously and thoughtfully as possible,” Gill said.

Two other state agencies are expanding to brace for the expanded schools effort. The state Revenue Department got an extra $4 million to put in place the system to collect the new corporate tax and the state Justice Department received $460,000 to work on legal issues around the new tax.

Reporter Claire Withycombe: cwithycombe@eomediagroup.com or 971-304-4148.