In his State of the State speech last Friday, Governor Kitzhaber eloquently described his efforts to improve education attainment and student achievement from birth through graduate school in Oregon. Kitzhaber said that improving education should be a top priority because none of us should be willing to accept 65 percent high school graduation rates or the fact that this generation of Oregon children could be the first to be less educated than their parents and their peers around the United States.
We agree. Few factors tie more closely to income and employment prospects that education attainment and Oregon must do everything in its power to help students learn and thrive in Oregon’s education system.
Last year the legislature set bold goals for education attainment in Oregon: That by 2025 Oregon should have a 100% high school graduation rate with 40% of Oregonians obtaining at least a Bachelor’s Degree and another 40% with at least an Associates degree or Technical degree. If Oregon achieves these goals, our economy and standard of living would be competitive with just about any place in the world.
A first step in the effort to get there was the creation of the Oregon Education Investment Board, which was assigned to help the Governor and legislature determine which policies and investments will deliver the biggest bang for the buck for Oregon’s education resources. The Investment Board has recommended two pieces of legislation to pass this year, with many more recommendations coming next year.
One piece of legislation will streamline disparate programs for early learning. Studies have shown that helping kids enter school ready to learn is one of the best investments of public resources we can make. Not only do these investments help kids learn more and do better in school, they help prevent social dependency and criminal activity down the road. In his speech, the Governor noted that we spend over $800 million every biennium on programs for children ages 0-5, yet 40 percent of our children still arrive at school at risk because their needs were not adequately addressed. Continuing to support a system with these outcomes should no longer to be acceptable to any of us. The goal of the early learning bill is to serve more at-risk kids and make sure they’re ready to learn from day one. The bill will improve our ability to to measure the effectiveness of Oregon’s early learning programs and better transition kids once they reach the K-12 system.
The other bill will create “achievement compacts” that replace the federal, compliance-based approach (“No Child Left Behind”) with partnership agreements between the state and our educational institutions – school districts, community colleges and universities. The compacts express a common commitment to improving outcomes, but tailor outcomes to unique circumstances of individual districts. And they allow for the comparison of results and progress between districts with comparable populations. The achievement compacts will begin to connect funding to outcomes so the state can become, over time, a smarter “investor” in education.
Governor Kitzhaber recognized that more resources are needed to bring down class sizes and to slow the increase in college tuition. However, he also made it clear that we can’t permit the absence of adequate funding to foreclose a real discussion about how to more effectively spend the resources we’ve got. That is what these two bills aim to do and why Oregon’s business community stands firmly behind them.
There will be several opportunities to learn about, and weigh in on, the recommendations of the Oregon Education Investment Board. A series of meetings begin tonight in Portland and will be held across the state.
Each of the seven meetings will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. After a brief presentation on the Oregon Education Investment Board’s proposals, most of the time is reserved for participants to discuss and share their thoughts.
Tuesday, Jan. 17