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Measure to lift graduation rates to appear on ballot

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Measure 98 qualified for the ballot this summer after supporters amassed over 100,000 signatures from Oregon voters.

It’s a sobering reality: Oregon high schools have the one of the highest dropout rates in the country.

Indeed, in recent years, the state’s graduation rate has sunk as low as 47th in the nation.

This November, voters will see a measure on their ballots that proposes tackling that statistic by funding high school dropout prevention programs across the state.

Last month, Measure 98 qualified for a spot on the November ballot after amassing over 100,000 signatures from Oregon voters. If the measure is approved by voters, the state would be required to allocate $147 million annually for school districts across the state for dropout prevention programs.

If the measures passes, nearly $9.5 million of that amount could be available for the Beaverton School District to use on programs such as vocational and career-technical education, as well as community college co-enrollment. That's the third largest share in the state.

"I think it would be a really big step (if the measured passed)," said Mike Chamberlain, the district's executive administrator for high schools. "Of course, it wouldn't solve everything."

The measure could provide the resources for programs the district hasn't been able to focus on, said Chamberlain. With massive budget cuts and layoffs, there simply hasn't been enough money to fund robust career and technical education.

"There's only so much food on the table, and you have to figure out how to feed everybody," said Chamberlain.

ECONorthwest, a financial consulting firm, was hired to crunch “estimated allocation” numbers by Stand for Children, a national organization that is backing Measure 98.

Money would be allocated to districts across the state according to their student population, with an initial allocation of $800 per high school student. The number of students in a district would then be weighted to reflected other factors, such as district poverty rates.

Districts can choose whether or not to take that money. No new taxes would be created.

With a drop-out rate of 3.36 percent, Beaverton graduating numbers have improved from previous years and are better than the state average. The statewide drop-out rate was 4.26 percent for the 2014-15 school year.

But Beaverton's graduation rate is still the one of the lowest of school districts in Washington County.

"Any student we lose is too many," said Chamberlain.

The Beaverton School District is one of the largest and most diverse districts in Oregon.

A disproportionate number of Hispanic, African-American and Native American students drop out of schools both statewide and in the Beaverton School District, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education. Students with disabilities and students from low-income families also drop out at a higher rate.

One of the biggest discrepancies was among English as a Second Language learners. During the 2014-15 school year, ESL high school students in the district dropped out at twice the rate of their classmates.

In response, the district has increased its social service and counseling services, summer school programs, credit recovery options and community college dual-credit opportunities.

"I'm not pretending we have this thing solved," said Chamberlain. "But we're working hard and trying our best to come up with creative solutions for kids and families."