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Ballot measure would boost vital technical education

For years, our schools have taken the stance that making a living as a tradesperson or other skilled hands-on profession doesn’t provide a good living

Hence, schools dropped their emphasis on vocational and career education.

Yet I regularly hear from Jackson County employers that they are looking for young people who enjoy working with wood, with metal and with machinery. These jobs have not gone away, and growing businesses continue to need skilled workers. Furthermore, as baby boomers retire, they leave a void employers are struggling to fill.

As a teacher at North Medford High School, I feel lucky to be able to give students hands-on experiences that help prepare them for real-world work. But we, along with schools all across the state, could be doing a better job. We don’t have an adequate, stable source of funding for vocational and career technical education (CTE)

That’s one of many reasons I fully support Measure 98, which will appear on your ballot in November. Measure 98 will prioritize our high schools by dedicating state funds so school districts, if they choose, can make career technical education available to all the students who want it.

Hands-on learning engages students — whether or not they are college bound — in a way that’s different from classroom lectures or books. First, it makes learning real by taking it out of the abstract and making it concrete. From basic business classes to culinary arts to automotive courses, learning becomes relevant — perhaps for the first time in a student’s life.

Many good-paying jobs don’t require a four-year college degree but instead require technical skills that high schoolers can learn.

Other states offer high schoolers classes like biomedicine, ship navigation, police service and math for medical professionals.

Time after time, once students have a hands-on learning opportunity, I hear that they have a reason to go to school. Things start making sense in a new way. And while they remain in school, they open themselves up to all the other benefits of a high school education.

Engaging students in CTE is an important way to address Oregon’s dismal high school graduation rate — one of the worst in the nation. Students who take two or more career or vocational education classes are 10 to 15 percent more likely to graduate than students who don’t participate in these courses.

It’s a joy to see a student pick up a piece of wood and a tool she may have never used before — and learn how to imagine, design and create.

It’s not just about teaching specific skills. These courses offer students the basics they will need in every work situation today: reliability, communication skills, teamwork and much more. These are the abilities that employers across the board are looking for — and that schools will teach, if they have the resources.

This brings me back to Measure 98. It will dedicate new state revenues to high schools for the purpose of providing vocational and career-technical education, making college-level classes available to high school students and increasing graduation rates.

It’s not a tax. And it wouldn’t force the Legislature to take money from other successful programs.

So what does it do? It will make resources available to school districts so they can design and offer courses that will benefit every student who wants it. The local schools have control.

Measure 98 may mean the difference between no career technical options in a school and one or more classes. New funding can be used to reduce classroom sizes and give students more opportunity to use the tools and get guidance from instructors. Other schools may choose to add courses for different career paths.

I am proud of our work with students here at North Medford High School. I also know we haven’t reached all the students who could benefit from classes like these. For the benefit of Jackson County students, as well as students in every county in Oregon, I encourage your support of Measure 98.

Tim Ponzohoa is a teacher at North Medford High School.