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The 65 percent deception: poor math for Oregon schools

Guest column: Rick Metsger

Our schools are faced with many challenges as they strive to educate the next generation of Oregonians. Addressing that challenge with political answers rather than honest investment in our children's future is unacceptable.

The 65 percent solution that is being trumpeted by some candidates across the country as a fix for issues faced by public education is 100 percent wrong. It offers the appealing promise that we can get something for nothing.

The 65 percent solution is actually the brainchild of Arizona political strategist Tim Mooney and is being bankrolled by Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com.

Byrne has said that the 65 percent solution will force 'education professionals to make do with what they have.'

The plan is to require schools to put at least 65 percent of every education dollar into the classroom. It has an appealing flavor. The problem is, how do you define the classroom? Ironically, The Chalkboard Project, an independent education advocacy organization here in Oregon, has audited all of our school districts and found Oregon already spends more than 69 percent of every dollar on classroom instruction. The 65 percent solution is a step backward for Oregon.

Additionally, the backers of the 65 percent plan have an unusual methodology for defining what they say are classroom expenses. For example, libraries are not considered classroom expenses, but, ironically, football jerseys and shoulder pads are. Their definition doesn't include school nurses or curriculum development.

The National PTA says the plan 'is fatally flawed.' A study by Standard and Poor's found no significant link between the 65 percent number and increased student performance. It is a shell game where no child wins.

What we should all be focusing on is a truly Oregon solution to our children's future. As co-chairman of the Senate Commission on Educational Excellence, I am advancing three key initiatives for the next legislative assembly to address.

The first of these initiatives is a renewed commitment to early childhood education that will fully fund Head Start and a reduction in class size for grades first through third. There is significant research that validates that early intervention is the most cost-effective educational investment we can make. Democratic Sen. Ryan Deckert is chairman of this sub-committee group.

The second initiative is an accountability plan that will identify 'best practices' in everything from transportation to accounting and other support services. Citizens will then be able to measure their school district's performance against these best practices. This proposal comes from the sub-committee chaired by Republican businesswoman Gretchen Pierce of Eugene.

The third initiative calls for the development of a capital and maintenance fund, which will allow school districts to tap into matching funds from the state for new school construction and/or repairs of existing facilities. The proposal was developed by sub-committee chairman Bill Thorndike, a Republican business owner from Medford, who chairs the Oregon Business plan.

These proposals offer real solutions to real problems, and they have been built with bi-partisan support. Our children have struggled long enough with those who would address 65 percent of their needs. Our children deserve a 100-percent commitment to their future.

Rick Metsger is the Democratic state senator representing District 26.