by Tom Olson
Yesterday’s Oregonian’s editorial, gushed over Intel, its new Chairman and the State’s “Strategic Investment Program (SIP).” The paper appeared particularly proud that the SIP has waived huge amounts of property and other taxes on Intel. I found it terribly ironic that the editorial concluded: “We also hope the state has learned from them the value of wise investments, particularly in education.”
The irony? Intel soars, thanks to Oregon’s overly generous tax breaks, while our public schools shrivel. Here are some brutal facts that should create outrage among our citizens.
· Oregon has lost almost 16% of our teachers, teaching assistants, and school maintenance and clerical workers over the past three years.
· Our high school class sizes have soared by 28.6% (Do you think students get individual attention when physics classes have 45 kids?)
· Elementary class sizes have increased by more than 19%. (Do we really think 30 or more kindergartners in a class meets their needs?)
· In aggregate, our school districts cut 287 school days in the current school year. (Try helping struggling kids with 15 fewer learning days!). The aggregate over the past three years amounts to 951 lost days for learning!
· Oregon’s per student spending has declined from 15th in the nation in 1997-98 to 33rd in 2008-2009.
· K-12 schools’ share of Oregon’s state budget has dropped from 44% in 2003-2005 to 39% in 2011-2013
· Since 2003, Public Education has received less than one-third of the percentage increase that went to Public Safety. We spend more on prisons than education.
· According to the legislature’s own Quality Education Commission research, the state is current $3 billion short of what it takes to provide K-12 quality education.
· The last five years saw a 5% reduction in spending on K-12 schools. Yet, the state’s total tax breaks grew by 12%. These breaks amount to over $26 billion, while funding for K-12 schools has shrunk to current level of $5.6 billion.
· The number of Oregon children living in poverty continues to escalate, and these children have special health and learning needs. The states’ response? Ignore this reality and push harder on our educators as the sole “solution.” This is a travesty.
In the face of these brutal facts, what “transformational” action did the Governor and legislature take in the this session? They required “achievement compacts”. Districts will have to promise to measure and achieve more than 100 performance targets in these “compacts”!!! A conservative estimate is that the development of these achievement compacts in an average-sized district will cost at least $20,000 in administrative and teachers’ staff time. This is time that could and should have been devoted to teaching and learning rather than one more demand to measure, measure, measure. And, isn’t a “compact” supposed to be a two way agreement? Nothing in these compacts is two way! The state orders additional work in the face of the above facts, and offers nothing in return.
I ask each reader to join me in asking the Governor and our legislators to sign an achievement compact. That compact will ask for the politicians’ promise to take specific bold steps to make increased wise state investments in education—and to be held accountable to citizens for such steps. No more mumbling,“maybe in the future.” No more back-room promises to “get tougher” on accountability as a dodge to avoid Constitutional funding responsibilities.
Here is a link to such a compact. Please immediately end it off to them for their signature. If they refuse to sign it ask them why. The Governor and legislature have said that they haven’t heard a groundswell of concern about funding our schools. Let ‘em hear the groundswell NOW!!!
Olson is a retired Canby grandparent, and an active local volunteer and member of Oregon Save Our Schools. Sources; State of Oregon Tax Expenditure Reports, Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office, Our Oregon, Oregon Education Association.