As a former middle school principal and as a legislator, nothing has been more important to me than working to build a brighter future for Oregon’s kids. Education has been my primary focus for many years, but the recession forced school districts throughout the state to make deep budget cuts in recent years, including more than 7,000 teacher layoffs.

This year, the legislature made some important steps forward. We secured the largest investment ever made in Oregon’s public schools. The new education budget will provide Oregon’s 197 school districts with $6.75 billion for the upcoming budget cycle — that’s one billion more than current funding levels. It was devastating to watch Salem-Keizer cut more than 200 teachers last year, and similar stories have been far too common for too many years. We all knew something had to change. We’ve made major strides to rebuild our education system this session, and this budget makes me feel hopeful for our students and our teachers.

Governor John Kitzhaber has been working to restructure the way that Oregon makes decisions on education funding and policy.

I recently had a very powerful meeting with several education leaders and parents to discuss the new Youth Development Council, which is set up to support student success in our K-12 system, especially for at-risk children. The parents pleaded with us to stop moving children to the next grade if they have not met current standards. They shared stories of their children’s struggles year after year because the student was moved forward to a new grade with higher demands and the painful struggle just gets harder.

These parents had some deep-rooted sadness with our “education system,” but I’m proud that we have taken a hard look at our system and started taking the necessary steps to improve. Setting up this new Youth Development Council will help chart a path to reduce criminal involvement, improve academic performance and keep Oregon’s kids moving in the right direction.

Oregon is absolutely taking steps to help our young people after they graduate high school. One of the most exciting victories of this legislative session was the passage of tuition equity, which will allow all of Oregon’s eligible high school graduates — regardless of their immigration status — to attend our colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates. The current cost prohibits students who have lived here their whole lives from getting an education that will lead them down a path of success. It prohibits some of Oregon’s best and brightest from having their dreams fulfilled. These students are my neighbors, my friends and the future of our state.

Our commitment to Oregon’s students is clear. House Democrats pushed to increase community college funding rather than send out corporate tax refunds this year. Oregon also won national attention for pioneering a tuition-free Pay It Forward program that could save future students from crushing debt burdens. We’re thinking outside of the box and doing everything we can to create greater opportunities for young Oregonians. As I continue to focus on education priorities, I find meeting with the people of our state reaffirms my commitment to serve our state as a member of the House of Representatives. I will continue seek out the top education leaders in our nation and our state to ensure student success.

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