Legislators studying Oregon’s perpetually underfunded education system are correct to focus on “student success” — but it’s time for them to widen their view of both students and success.
Lawmakers last week unveiled a much-anticipated plan to provide better funding for schools. The first part: Raise an additional $2 billion per biennium, somehow. The second part: Direct all of that new money toward early childhood and K-12 education.
We are withholding judgment on the revenue plan, which will include a tax on business, until the devilish details are set. But as for spending any money that materializes, the Legislature needs to look beyond K-12 to the full spectrum of education, including community colleges and universities.
The Joint Committee on Student Success is holding hearings this week to get the public’s views on the education plan. The committee needs to hear not just from K-12 teachers, parents and administrators, but also advocates for higher education.
Money raised through new taxation, whatever the amount, should be directed to programs that will help students truly succeed at all levels. Without question, that starts with early childhood and K-12 education. The committee currently envisions $400 million per biennium for early childhood priorities, $600 million for statewide investments, including dropout prevention, and $1 billion for a school improvement fund, in the form of grants to individual districts.
Those priorities make sense. However, a high school diploma without additional training will mean little in the tech-oriented world that Oregon’s students will enter in coming years. To get a good job — and to fully contribute to the state’s economy — Oregonians will need skills.
In its current form, the legislation proposed by the student success committee ignores higher education. Perhaps they figure that colleges and universities can continue to cover the funding gap by cutting programs and raising tuition. We think that’s a big mistake.
Supporters of universities and community colleges suggest two ways the state could help them financially, while focusing on the needs of students — as opposed to the needs of institutions.
One idea is to increase funding for career and technical education at community colleges — which will provide a path from high school to a high-paying job. Another worthy suggestion is to increase funding for Oregon Opportunity Grants, which will help university and community college students who have financial needs.
These two proposals would have the additional beneficial effect of reducing student debt in the long run. More career and technical education also would help industries — who would foot the tax bill — to find more Oregon residents who have the skills they need.
Leaders of the Joint Committee on Student Success seem determined to keep their sights set on K-12. But they need to know that Oregonians also value the economic pathways found only through colleges and universities. Here is a partial list of legislators on the committee, sorted by community college district, who need to hear from their constituents. We encourage readers to contact these lawmakers and urge them to give higher education its due by supporting career and technical training and boosting financial aid.