One of the main reasons I got into this race is because I want to see Oregon fully fund its public schools.
I’m a parent, with children attending public school here in the Silver Falls School District. As a parent, it’s easy to see that the schools are in need of support.
Since getting into the race, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of folks about the complex issues involved in school funding. These have included a prominent school booster and community activist; a local teacher here at SFSD; a representative of the Oregon Education Association; and a former schoolteacher who is now a serving State Representative from another district.
Here are some takeaways from those conversations.
The Current Service Level is not the Quality Education Model
Just a few years ago, the Legislature passed a school funding bill to great fanfare. So why, then, are people like me still talking about school funding? Hasn’t the problem been solved forever?
The Student Success Act of 2019 plugged a hole, but it did not refill the bucket. The Legislature must do more.
Now we get into details like, “What does it mean to fully fund public education?”
And as it turns out, the level of service that’s currently being funded (Current Service Level, or CSL) is not the level of service written into the standards developed by educators some 20 years ago when they drew up a detailed plan with metrics envisioning what a truly quality education would look like for Oregon’s students (Quality Education Model, or QEM).
In short: what we should be funding is this model for quality education; but what we’re funding instead is just a continuation of our old underperforming service.
Here’s the problem
Out of all the 50 States (plus the District of Columbia), Oregon is currently ranked near the bottom of the list in education quality.
Several sources agree.
The United States Department of Education reports that only 37% of Oregon’s fourth-graders are proficient in Math.
US News & World Report ranked Oregon’s schools near the bottom third for 2021.
Public School Review reports that Oregon students’ math proficiency scores are well below average — as measured by Oregon’s own standards!
One comparison website even produced this fancy interactive graphic rating the quality of public schools. If you’re on a mobile phones, tap; or if you’re on a desktop or laptop, mouse over, the great State of Oregon, below. You’ll see that our state is ranked number 42 out of 51.
42 out of 51.
We are way down towards the bottom.
And that is because we, as Oregonians, consistently refuse to fully fund our public schools.
If you want quality, ya gotta pay for quality.
I mean, sure, you could walk into a car dealership with nothing in your pocket and demand a high-end sports car, if you possess more confidence than good sense; but if you do, you’ll end up driving away in a junker with serious maintenance issues. If you want a sports car that actually runs like a sports car, you’ll have to be prepared to pay for a sports car.
Regardless of what we ourselves drive, most of us want our children to have the best available opportunities in life, as they go out and face the world of the future. And in order to prepare them for that, we would all like our children to have a “sports car” education. You know what I mean? We want our kids to have a top quality learning experience: one where they can grow into the person they want to be, and learn all the things they will need to know, in an environment where their sense of wonder and their love of learning are nurtured, so they can become confident in their abilities as thinkers, doers, and speakers: people who build, and grow, and do, great things.
But they’re not going to get that kind of education in a classroom with one of the highest student-to-teacher ratios in the nation. Which is what Oregon currently has. Yep.
In terms of student-teacher ratios, we are among the 5 worst, out of all the States in the nation.
(Image links to source.)
And with numbers like that, perhaps it’s no surprise that we’re also among the 5 worst in terms of our High School dropout rate.
Our dropout rate is four times higher than Alabama, y’all.
Oregon can do better for its children. Oregon must do better. The future of our families depends on it.
This affects you!
And let’s not forget: public education affects us all. Even if your children are grown; even if you have never had children and don’t intend to: this still affects you, personally.
Well-educated children grow up to be high-performing professionals.
Do you think you might eventually get old, at some point in your life? Today’s students are your future physicians, nurses, and assisted living caregivers. Wouldn’t you like them to be well-rounded and highly educated?
Are you a business owner? Today’s students are your future employees. Wouldn’t you like them to be smart and savvy?
Well-educated citizens are LESS likely to commit serious crimes.
Don’t like crime? Educate the children!
Well-educated children grow up to become productive and well-rounded members of society.
Children who finish high school are more likely to establish meaningful careers and live with purpose as adults.
Let’s set Oregon’s children on a path to success.
Well-educated students grow up to have higher lifetime earnings.
Do you like roads? How about social services? When Oregon’s students grow up to become highly paid professionals, that translates to higher tax revenues for the State, and we’ll be better able to fund everything else we’d like to do. It all begins with education.
Support Our Teachers
Class sizes are growing. Teachers are overwhelmed, burnt out, and leaving.
If you ask them directly, the teachers may not tell you that they want anything for themselves. They are more likely to mention that the schools are in disrepair: that the facilities require maintenance and upgrades. They might go on to explain that school funding is overly complex because it fluctuates from year to year, which makes it very difficult for districts to plan ahead.
This is an example of how teachers put others first.
It takes a lot to become a teacher! Oregon requires public school teachers to have graduate degrees. Getting a graduate degree requires many years of additional schooling, and attendant student loan debt. It’s difficult, and it’s expensive.
So we should reward the people who go through all that just so our children can have the best possible teachers. We should thank them! We should shower them with gifts and praise. More importantly, we should fully fund the public schools, so the schools can pay the teachers, and give them plenty of training days and planning periods and whatever else they need: classroom supplies, computers, and educational tools, like evidence-based curriculum materials for Language Arts, Science, and Math.
What do we do instead? We ask the teachers to keep working through the pandemic with no increase in salary, no hazard pay, no extra vacation time, nothing. Instead of a generous raise, all the teachers get is occasional abuse from certain angry parents who blame the teachers for things the teachers have no control over.
Let us lead with love. Let us start by loving our teachers, who are guiding our young generation through these unprecedented times and into the bright world of the future. Let us shower them with thanks and praise. The teachers deserve a raise.
Not the anti-education activists
And in the meantime, anti-education activists are trying to push through measures that would strip away funding from public schools.
As often happens when a group of people works together to try to do something really evil, they dress up their efforts in deceptive cute slogans, intended to hide the fact that these nefarious proposals take money away from the public schools.
My Republican opponent, for example, recently co-sponsored SB1552, “virtual charter schools,” which is a perfect example of a proposal that might sound harmless at first, as long as you don’t examine the details too closely or take the time to consider the broader implications of diverting public funds into online “schools” that don’t meet any certification criteria, don’t follow State guidelines, and are answerable to no one.
Who is harmed by these types of proposals?
- Public schools, which have their revenues cut when enrollment is diverted to non-public-school venues
- Teachers, who are stuck with large class sizes and low salaries because their districts are strapped for cash
- The poor, who rely on public education
- Minorities, who rely on public education, and who are effectively segregated by these types programs
- Students with learning disabilities, who are not served by any of these alternative models
- All of us, who end up living in a world where everyone grows up in an isolated “bubble” and never interacts with people outside it
Who benefits from these types of proposals?
- The social elite benefit, when money is taken away from struggling public schools and funneled instead to effectively segregated, effectively private schools — schools which, although publicly funded, don’t follow educational guidelines, don’t comply with State regulations, and don’t provide even the most basic services for students with learning disabilities. Public funds should not be used to pay for private schools.
- Religious institutions benefit, when public money is used to fund private religious education (which is a clear violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment protections separating Church from State).
- Extremist ideologies benefit, when children are isolated from society and brought up in (metaphorical?) walled compounds controlled by dogmatists, demagogues, and cult leaders. If some folks prefer to raise their children that way, then that’s their choice, I suppose, as long as the children aren’t being abused; but there’s absolutely no reason you or I should have to pay money to fund it! And yet, that’s exactly what these cute-slogan-chanting folks are calling for, right now. It’s ridiculous, is what it is. Enough is enough. The rest of us must put our collective foot down and say, “No.”
We need some slogans of our own.
How about this one?
Fund. The. Schools.
Catchy, right? That’s ’cause it’s got exactly three syllables. You can count ’em:
“Fund the schools!”
Shout it out loud a few times, and wave your fist in the air for effect. Kind of invigorating, ain’t it?
So let’s do that. Let’s fund the schools!
But who’s going to pay for it?
Whenever we talk about funding a public program, that conversation implies a necessary question: Where is the money coming from?
Progressive taxation is an American value.
Throughout the Twentieth Century, we as a society asked more of the people who had the most; we asked less of those who had less; and we offered assistance to those who had the least. That’s as it should be.
Unfortunately, in recent years, that trend has begun to reverse. Thanks to the determined efforts of corporate lobbyists, the tax burden has recently shifted away from those who have the most, instead requiring more from everyone else.
In a blatant example of exactly what this looks like, last year my Republican opponent co-sponsored SB461, which would reduce Oregon’s capital gains tax.
Now, let me ask you this: do you pay capital gains tax? Do you, personally, pay any capital gains tax at all, whatsoever? I’m guessing you probably don’t currently pay a single penny in capital gains tax. In fact, if you’re like most people, you probably don’t even know what it is! And that’s because the capital gains tax does not affect you, personally. This is a tax that mostly only affects people who are so wealthy that they make most of their income by owning stuff. Owning stuff is not “work,” the way you and I think of work. There is arguably a place for owning stuff, in a capitalist system; but that’s no reason to exempt those folks from paying their fair share of taxes!
So let’s do the opposite of what my opponent proposed.
We need to ask more of those who have the most.
This is what I propose: Instead of cutting the capital gains tax, as my opponent would like us to do, let’s raise it. The folks who have benefited the most from our system are the folks who should give back and help fund the system. Let’s raise the capital gains tax, and earmark the additional funds for our public schools.
We should ask the most from those who have so much that they will barely notice that they’ve been asked for anything at all. And sure, they’ll still complain about it, but come on: a family bringin’ in more than a million bucks every year, ain’t gonna notice another few bucks in taxes. What’s it to them? It’s just a line item on a form to them! It has no tangible impact on their upper-income lives.
But it could have a very tangible impact on the lives of the children and families right here in our communities.
By boosting education funding now, we can benefit the future of the economy here in Oregon.
Don’t Give Up!
Too often, people are ready to immediately give up as soon as they see problems.
Problems are a fact of life. Giving up is not the answer. Problems are meant to be fixed!
The problem with Oregon’s public schools is simple: they just need to be fully funded.
They’re doing the best they can with what they have; and when they get better funding, they will achieve amazing results for Oregon’s students. I believe it. Let’s give them the opportunity to show us all.
Let’s fully fund the public schools.
Some context. A generation ago, Oregon voters passed an initiative referendum (1991’s Measure 5) that shifted public school funding away from inequitable local property taxes, and instead mandated that public schools should largely be funded from the State’s general fund. In the year 2000, voters passed another referendum (that year’s Measure 1) amending the Constitution to require the Oregon State Legislature to fully fund the public schools up to a certain level of quality. A loophole in the ballot measure from the year 2000 permits the Legislature to knowingly fund schools at an insufficient level, as long as it writes a report about it. And in 2019, the Oregon State Legislature passed the Student Success Act, allocating new funds to help fund public education. Those new funds were intended to supplement the existing school funding; but now some Legislators seem tempted to treat the supplemental funds as though they were sufficient, and raid the base funds… Meanwhile, as explained above, the current service level is not adequate. We need to bring Oregon’s schools up to the standards described in the Quality Education Model; and we probably need to update the model, too, since it’s two decades old at this point.