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Let's prioritize our public schools

Should schools allow more business advertising? Should teachers be compensated based on student performance? Those are two of the subjects that members of our Lake Oswego Middle School Debate Team tackled this season. In the last two years the debate team has enabled more than 40 local middle school students to practice analyzing tough topics and debating them in a civil, productive way.

The vision and dedication that educators at Lake Oswego Middle School have shown in supporting the debate team — particularly the leadership eighth-grade teacher and debate team Coach Aletia Cochran — is one reason our family is donating to the Lake Oswego School Foundation this year. By supporting the foundation we help our school district pay for great teachers who equip our kids with skills they need in a complex world.

If you are in a position to support the foundation this year, I encourage you to do so. And let’s not stop there. Let’s also tell our state legislators we want them to prioritize funding for our public K-12 schools in the next biennial budget so that our kids — and students all around Oregon — can attend schools that provide adequate instructional time and reasonable class sizes.

As a newly appointed state representative for our community, I have learned that spring is the season when legislators begin developing their priorities for the upcoming 2015 legislative session. In 2015 we will pass a new biennial budget.

That makes now a great time to tell legislators we want the next budget to include a more adequate level of funding for our K-12 public schools, specifically to achieve an appropriate level of funding of instructional hours and to attract and retain the best possible educators so we can provide reasonable class sizes.

According to the Oregon School Boards Association, Oregon students will attend school an average of 166 days in the 2013-2014 school year. That is almost three weeks less per year than students in Mississippi and Alabama. Both of these states require 180 days of instructional time, which is the national average.

Between the 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years, Oregon public school districts and educational service districts had a net loss of (more than) 3,500 teaching positions. During that same period, class sizes increased significantly in many schools.

In the years from 2003 to 2013, legislators decreased the percentage of General Fund dollars that legislators devoted to K-12 education from 44.8 percent to 38.2 percent.

The Legislature started reversing that trend in 2013 with a significant increase in our K-12 budget, which is a good start. However, with almost three fewer weeks of school than the national average and far too many extremely large class sizes, we can and must do much more.

I hope you’ll join me in urging our state leadership to prioritize funding for K-12 public schools in our next budget so we can offer more instructional time and reasonable class sizes. The students on our Middle School Debate Team have the courage to tackle tough issues and discuss them in a civil and productive way. Let’s show our kids that we are willing to do that as well.

Ann Lininger, Lake Oswego, is an attorney with a local manufacturing firm, co-coach of the Lake Oswego Middle School Debate Team and has worked with many local nonprofit organizations. Her two children attend LO public schools, and she was recently appointed state representative for House District 38, representing Lake Oswego and Southwest Portland.

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