Five high schools in Bend will celebrate graduation in June, with Mountain View first on June 9, followed by La Pine High on June 10, Summit and Bend Senior High on June 11, and Marshall on June 13. For many, it will be one of life's happiest days, but nearly one in four students won't graduate in the district, which has a graduation rate of 77.2 percent. Three years ago, Oregon had the lowest graduation rate of any state in the nation at 68.7 percent, and it is still in the bottom five nationwide.
What went wrong in Oregon? In 1991, the Oregon Legislature enacted Oregon's Educational Act for the 21st Century, with the goal of having the most highly educated workforce in the world by 2010. It was a lofty goal, but one built on the confidence that came from decades of high performance.
The top reason identified by the state for Oregon's current low graduation rate is "Oregonians don't value education." Yet, Oregon has a higher than average percentage of high school graduates (89.5 percent) and college graduates (30.1 percent) than the rest of the country. However, Oregon's graduation rate plummeted when education funding was cut and legislators abolished tenure for public school employees in 1997. Rather than saying Oregonians don't vaue education, it would be more accurate to say that the Oregon State Legislature has failed to allocate adequate funds and has enacted legislation that works against Oregon's former standards.
When funding for Oregon schools shifted away from local property taxes to state funding, this put education funding in the hands of politicians and at the mercy of party politics. When the Legislative Assembly debates education funding, ulterior motives often come into play, such as last year, when Senate Republicans tried to tie more education funding to more commercial logging on state land, an ongoing problem.
This election year, Oregonians may get the opportunity to vote for three education ballot measures, which began as initiative petitions. Each must gather 88,184 signatures in 2016 to reach the ballot in November.
Initiative Petition 28 looks to tax corporations with more than $25 million per year in sales at a higher rate. The downside of this measure is that Oregon already has the highest minimum corporate tax in the country. The upside is that it may add an estimated $5 billion to Oregon's general fund every two years, although not specifically earmarked for education. IP 28 is backed by the Oregon Education Association.
Initiative Petition 65, Oregonians for High School Success, is specifically focused on improving Oregon's graduation rate, requiring state funding for dropout prevention. It would also establish career technical education programs and access to college education courses in high school.
Initiative Petition 67, Save Outdoor School for All, would use unallocated funds from the Oregon Lottery to give every Oregon student the outdoor school experience.
Supporting the initiative petition process is one way to put the power for education funding back in voters' hands.