Education Progress in the 2007 Legislative Session
We've finally turned the corner.
After so many years of cutbacks and of patching together public education in our state—a process that led not only to far fewer opportunities for our kids and our future, but also to national embarrassment in the syndicated comic strip "Doonesbury"—the 2007 Oregon Legislature has finally begun the process of refunding and rebuilding.
The combined work of the Governor's office, the Senate and House Education Committees, and the Way & Means Subcommittee on Education has our state on the path to a new standard of excellence.
A shared agenda is evolving for legislators, business groups such as Oregon Business Council and the Oregon Business Association, education groups such as the Oregon School Boards Association, the Confederation of School Administrators, the Oregon PTA, the Oregon Education Association, the Oregon School Employees Association, advocacy groups such as the Chalkboard Project and Stand For Children, along with the State Superintendent of Schools, the Department of Education, the State Board of Education and the Board of Higher Education.
It's an agenda that is ambitious, innovative and doable. It envisions excellence in our schools, adequate and stable funding, and a seamless model of delivery from pre-Kindergarten all the way through our university system that provides a solid education for every student in our state as well as the opportunity for each individual student to thrive.
We have put key pieces in place in 2007, and as mentioned above, turned the corner towards a future in education in Oregon that we can be proud of. We have a long way still to go, but at long last we are moving again in the right direction.
There was strong support from all parties to build the foundation for the seamless education system with a significant increase in funding for Head Start, a program with a proven track record of success in care for young children and preparing them to start school ready to learn. With the increased investment of $39 million passed by the 2007 Legislature, Head Start will be available to thousands of more kids in Oregon, coming very close to full enrollment for all eligible children. This is a significant step forward, and one that we can build on in future sessions.
This means that more kids will be ready to go when they move into...
The Oregon K-12 System
One of the shortest but most potent bits of testimony offered before the House Committee on Education this session came at the end of an hour long hearing on legislation concerning our elementary schools. A motivated but impatient education advocate came to the witness table and put everything into eight words. "All we really need," he told the committee, "is funding and leadership."
The 2007 Legislature has responded with a substantial increase in basic operational funding, an additional school improvement fund for targeted needs, a statewide mentorship program for new teachers and administrators, and changes in contracts and services to increase efficiencies and make sure there are clear returns on Oregonians' investments in our schools. (More on the Oregon K-12 System)
Oregon Community Colleges & the Oregon University System
The Budgets: as with Head Start and the K-12 schools, the investment in our Community Colleges and the Oregon University System has been increased significantly this session. We have also made a tremendous new investment in financial aid for both part time and full time students. Again, we still have a long way to go to make up for years of damage done, but we are moving in the right direction.
For Students: these funding levels will mean progress in both affordability of tuition and access to the classes they need. We have also passed SB 334, the aforementioned Shared Responsibility Model for the financial aid offered in the Oregon Opportunity Grants. In a nutshell, the Shared Responsibility Model will assist students of almost every economic level in meeting the financial challenges of higher education. Every qualifying student willing to work 15 hours per week during school will receive assistance, with a family share determined on a sliding scale, and federal and state funds helping to cover the remaining costs. This is an excellent step forward for students in our state. (More on Oregon Community Colleges & the Oregon University System)
Taken as a whole, the increased investment and clear policy choices made by the 2007 Legislature makes this session the brightest one for education in many, many years. As noted at the start, we are moving once more in the right direction. We know the many challenges we face for the future, but we also know what it will take for us to get to where we need to go.
What can you do?
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