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Gov. Brown surprises South Medford freshmen

Gov. Kate Brown surprised 500 freshmen when she made an unexpected visit to South Medford High Monday morning to sign a portion of the Student Success Act, which will pump $2 billion more into Oregon’s educational system over the next two years.

“This is a historic moment in Oregon schools to be awarded this additional funding,” said Natalie Hurd, spokeswoman for the school district.

In the next school year, the Student Success Act will add an extra $4 million to $5 million to Medford schools, Hurd said.

In addition to the freshmen, who started their first day of school Monday, school staff, school board members, legislators and others attended the signing.

“They gave a huge round of applause to the governor,” Hurd said.

A small number of protesters showed up at South Medford High, but they arrived after the governor had left.

The Student Success Act will provide $2 billion over the next biennium by creating a new business tax that will be dedicated to early learning and K-12 education.

School districts will receive about half the money based on enrollment numbers, with the rest for early learning and other initiatives to improve performance. The goal is to improve graduation rates, attendance and reading levels.

“Giving our children the opportunity to thrive is at the core of the Student Success Act,” said Brown in a prepared statement. “These targeted investments will ensure that all our kids can graduate high school with a plan for their future and the tools to compete in a global economy.”

Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed the legislation this year. Republicans, while voicing support for more school funding, generally opposed the idea of a business tax and urged more effort to reduce the Public Employees Retirement System debt.

The legislation places a 0.57% tax on businesses that generate more than $1 million in sales annually. The tax kicks in on receipts above $1 million for a single business.

Some of the education initiatives include expanded nutrition programs, new school safety programs, support for English as a second language, dropout prevention and more career and technical education.

Some of the performance targets for schools will include reducing dropout rates and improving graduation and attendance rates. Early education will be fully funded under the Act, particularly providing instruction to children to age 3. Children from birth to age 3 will get individually designed programs to enhance development.

Before Medford schools complete a plan to spend the additional money, it will reach out to the community and the educational community for input on where to use it, said Hurd.

One of the objectives is to increase the graduation rate from the current 80.5%, up from 78% in 2016-17. Another objective is to improve third-grade reading proficiency.

The district wants to increase its investment in mental health counselors.

“We really want to bolster our support for students in social and emotional health,” Hurd said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Gov. Kate Brown signs Student Success Act Monday at South Medford High. Photo by Natalie King