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Schools group wants candidates to hit books

Voters urged to quiz political hopefuls on education funding

The Portland Schools Foundation wants Oregonians to give state political candidates a test.

What is the average class size in your community's public school district?

What is the high school completion rate?

How much money is spent per pupil, and how does that compare to 10 years ago?

Those questions, and others, are intended to inform voters about what candidates in November's elections know about public schools and how they stand on funding them.

The suggested candidate quiz represents a shift for the nonprofit foundation. The organization now wants to spur people to lobby politicians and the public to fix what foundation officials call a 'crisis' in state education funding.

'This symbolizes a recognition by my board's leadership that we have to roll up our sleeves and get into this in a much more aggressive way,' said Cynthia Guyer, the foundation's executive director.

The 6-year-old foundation actually began as a key player in political lobbying. As the school district was dealing with millions of dollars in cuts in 1996, the foundation organized a march through the city's streets in support of public schools. Thirty-thousand people marched.

In recent years, the foundation has focused more on raising money for, and giving grants to, schools within the Portland district.

But the foundation's suggested candidate questions come as part of a publicity campaign to launch what its leaders call a 'school-funding action network' of public school advocates who believe that Oregon needs increased and more stable education funding.

The campaign to tell people about the foundation's action network will include public service announcements on cable television and bus advertising paid for by a private donation.

Guyer said foundation leaders will send e-mails with news about school funding issues to people involved in the network.

Eventually, she said, the network may be used to mobilize people to lobby legislators or the public for changes in the state's tax structure or in its funding of education. She said many education advocates believe that won't happen through legislative action and can only happen through voter initiatives.

'Right now, no one has the clear strategy worked out,' Guyer said. 'But we're refocusing and redoubling our efforts to get prepared for whatever that work and that campaign ends up being.'

Contact Todd Murphy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .