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LO School Board joins campaign to boost funding for education

'Promise of Oregon' hopes to persuade lawmakers that schools are crucial to the state's future

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Heather Beck (from left) and school board members Sarah Howell, Liz Hartman and Bob Barman posted a photo on Facebook in support of the Promise of Oregon campaign. The Lake Oswego School Board has signed on to a statewide campaign to showcase the achievements of Oregon’s young people and encourage lawmakers to increase funding for schools.

The Promise of Oregon, created by the Oregon School Boards Association, aims to remind people that today’s children will be the ones taking the reins someday. Education is a crucial investment in the state’s future, the campaign says, and it is underfunded.

“What the campaign encourages people to do is spread the word, and Lake Oswego is a great example of a community that’s demonstrated a great commitment,” said Betsy Miller-Jones, executive director of the OSBA.

Lake Oswego School Board members and Superintendent Heather Beck signed a resolution Dec. 8 pledging to join the OSBA’s campaign, and they have already participated in the organization’s social media efforts. Much of the district’s Promise of Oregon strategy will coalesce during the next legislative session, but plans already are in place to have students give presentations on the great projects and community service they’re doing before the start of every board meeting.

“Those are the kinds of things we want to feature — kids doing great stuff, showing that they are going to be good citizens,” Lake Oswego School Board Chairwoman Liz Hartman said.

In addition, Hartman, who is on OSBA’s Legislative Policy Committee, said she is seeking volunteers to shoot videos of children who exemplify the state’s future. Videos can then be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #PromiseOR; those posts will then flow onto the Promise of Oregon website at promiseoregon.org.

To show their support, Beck and school board members Hartman, Bob Barman and Sarah Howell recently posed for a photo holding a Promise of Oregon sign. The photo was posted to Facebook.

“Education is the best long-term investment we can make in the future of our state,” Beck said. “Educated citizens are the foundation of a strong economy, an informed democracy and a healthy community.”

The board in January plans to start discussing its strategy for supporting the Promise of Oregon campaign, addressing parent club presidents and school advisory councils. On Feb. 23, the board will partner with the OSBA, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and many others to speak with legislators in Salem about why they should support greater funding for education.

The Promise of Oregon campaign is a rallying call for the state’s 197 school districts, 19 education service districts, 17 community colleges and other education groups, institutes and supporters. Attracting dozens of participants is intended to demonstrate to the Legislature that funding a strong education system is a priority for many Oregonians. The Promise of Oregon website will soon include a petition, and the OSBA is encouraging all citizens to sign it.

“If Oregon really wants to make improvements in our national rankings as a state, bold initiatives like the Promise of Oregon need to be embraced, funded, held accountable and improved upon,” said John Wendland, a Lake Oswego School Board member. “We all owe it to our children to not shortchange their future.”

For many years, the percentage of state general fund and lottery dollars that go to K-12 schools has decreased, according to the OSBA. In the 2003-05 biennium, the Legislature allocated 44.8 percent of its budget to K-12 ($5.2 billion). Lawmakers bucked the trend in 2013-15, when funding rose from $5.56 billion in the previous biennium to $6.65 billion. But education’s slice of the state pie is still about 5 percentage points smaller than it was a decade ago.

OSBA, through its Promise of Oregon campaign, says that trend needs to be reversed.

“The Promise of Oregon is an opportunity for us to support our children by fully funding public education,” Beck said.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposed 2015-17 budget, released earlier this month, recommends allocating $6.91 billion to K-12 education, with about $220 million carved out for full-day kindergarten. State Sen. Richard Devlin and Rep. Peter Buckley, co-chairmen of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, have already begun working on the budget proposal they’ll present to the rest of the Legislature next year. For his part, Devlin (D-Tualatin) said the governor’s budget could have committed $7.2 billion to $7.3 billion to K-12 education and still kept costs and expenses balanced.

There are other statewide education issues to address besides funding. For example, the percentage of students who entered the ninth grade in 2008-09 and graduated on time four years later was 68 percent, the second-to-worst ratio in the nation, the OSBA says. Part of the problem, the organization says, is that kids aren’t in class as much as they are in other states.

The average number of instructional days in Oregon school districts — 172 days on average — is well below the national norm of 180 days and less than in any state but Colorado, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

“Our kids go to school about a year less than students in the state of Washington, and that clearly makes a difference,” Miller-Jones of the OSBA said. “We need to get our students the same opportunities that other students in the United States have in order to be competitive, but it does start with one kid, one school, one district. And then it needs to spread statewide — that message, that support.”

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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