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Strengthening schools is key to economic recovery

Education is part of the solution to Oregon's economic problems, and that's a fact of life we Oregonians can no longer ignore - not if we're serious about generating long-term economic recovery in our state.

This was the consensus during the recent meeting of the Oregon School Boards Association's Legislative Policy Committee in Salem. As the president-elect of the OSBA, I took a special interest in the committee's work since I'll be at the helm of the association when the Legislature convenes next January. One of my goals will be to persuade the Legislature to make use of public education as a tool in rebuilding our state's damaged economy.

I plan to work with my colleagues in the education community to return public education to the forefront of Oregon's priorities. To get the job done, we will need to secure enough state funding to support a strong educational system that stimulates job growth. But we must pursue other goals, too.

We must close the achievement gap and give every student an equal opportunity to succeed. And we need to strengthen local management of schools by ensuring shared accountability and getting rid of outdated state mandates.

I'm sure we'll have a lively and sometimes contentious public discussion of the state education budget. We will argue about how to bring Oregon back to a competitive position with other states in the amount per pupil we invest, how many kids we put in our classrooms and the number of school days per year. Also, we will hear protests from those who always oppose investing more in public education.

Throughout this process, I will urge legislators and citizens to remember the role that education plays in creating good jobs and stimulating growth. I will remind them that most school districts are major employers in the communities they serve. High-quality schools attract employers to our cities and towns, and these employers generate economic activity that helps them grow and thrive.

Recently, decisions to close schools have heightened economic uncertainty in communities throughout our state. Sending teachers and school workers to the unemployment line takes away the economic benefits we would otherwise enjoy when they cut back in buying groceries, clothing and countless other consumer products and services from local merchants.

If we show the foresight and wisdom to invest in our statewide educational system, we can create a workforce that attracts employers from outside Oregon and helps homegrown employers expand. These companies will create new jobs for well-trained, educated workers. As the workforce grows, it will strengthen the demand for more goods and services, creating a cycle of prosperity and progress.

Let's put Oregon's system of public education back on the right track. Let's resolve to end the cycle of cuts and reductions that have hampered our children and created so much economic anxiety for so long. Now is the time to make a change.

* Terry Lenchitsky is president-elect of the Oregon School Boards Association.