Oregon’s future education goals are lofty and admirable. But are they realistic? We have our doubts, fueled by challenges in current funding of the state’s public education system. But we’ll keep an open mind.
Senate Bill 253, approved by the 2011 Legislature, set the following goals for 2025: 40 percent of the state’s working age adults will have four-year college degrees or higher; 40 percent will have two-year degrees or the equivalent; and 20 percent will have high school diplomas or the equivalent.
Another bill passed during the same session established the Oregon Education Investment Board. OEIB was charged with the creation of a unified student-centered system of public education.
During the 2012 legislative session, the OEIB presented lawmakers with a strategy to achieve the 40-40-20 goals. What resulted from that short-year assembly was Senate Bill 1581, which established a chief education officer to oversee the entire system and set mandatory annual achievement compacts for school districts.
Initial progress is being made. School districts, the Community College Council and the Oregon University System all have been drafting achievement compacts. OEIB has outlined possible legislation for the 2013-15 biennium.
The greatest challenge is finances.
Oregon has no sales tax, a property tax limited by voter-approved constraints and an income tax, already among the nation’s highest, that won’t easily be increased. The governor wants a reformed tax system, but Oregonians seem disinclined to pay more.
According to state higher education chancellor George Pernsteiner, Oregon University System enrollment would have to increase from 100,000 to 160,000 per year to reach the 40 percent four-year degree goal. That means more classrooms, more professors, and more students who are better prepared to enter and complete college.
This spring, Gov. John Kitzhaber hired nationally known education innovator Rudy Crew as the state’s first chief education officer. Crew’s philosophy, outlined in his book “Only Connect: The Way to Save Our Schools,” explains what he calls “workplace literacy.”
Education is not just about math and science, he says. It’s about creating programs “that introduce children to the workplace, that teach them the dignity and honor that come with a productive day.”
It will take innovative career path programs and public/private partnerships to extend that philosophy to Oregon education — programs like the one between local aerospace manufacturer Meggitt Polymers and Composites and Yamhill-Carlton High School. Meggitt, and many other local manufacturers, cannot find qualified employees willing to work in local industries. So the company built a training facility at Y-C that not only supports students entering a manufacturing pathway but also serves as a training facility for Meggitt during non-school hours.
Whatever doubts we have about Oregon reaching that 40-40-20 goal, we support the state’s emphasis on wise investment to instill Oregonians with broad knowledge and a strong work ethic. It will take some financial sacrifice for Oregon’s education system to compete with the best in the country.