Oregon's Measure 98: Tread Carefully

Measure 98 would allocate 1% of Oregon's general fund for a combination of Career Technical Education (CTE), AP and similar classes and dropout prevention. Curiously, there are zero arguments in opposition, even though this is a substantial diversion of general fund dollars for a special program.

I happen to be a big supporter of CTE and lament much of what we've lost in school offerings since
the onset of high stakes testing. Not just CTE, but science, social studies, physical education, art, music and foreign language have all taken hits. After the 2008 recession, our school staffs were cut drastically and with the loss of so many teachers went the losses of great programs.

I checked our four Josephine County high schools to see what's left. Naturally, the biggest school has the most. But woodshop classes are diminished and auto shops nonexistent. Every school though has some combination of computer classes, business classes and metals. Some also have photo/video editing or health occupations or culinary arts. Generally though, it's true that even when there are many different offerings, there are fewer sections of each -- often just one. This makes working that class into your schedule a challenge for any individual student.

Many of the arguments cited our lamentable graduation rate, one of the worst in the nation. I may be out of date, but when I was at North Valley, Oregon had the strictest, most convoluted way of measuring graduation rates. As an example, if a family showed up one day to register their children, had a schedule drawn up by a counselor, and was enrolled -- but DID NOT show up the next day for classes or any other day, they counted as a dropout, even though the school had not had the child in school a single day. This could be a 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grader. And given the social programs that require school enrollment, that happened more often than you'd suppose.

My concern about Measure 98 is the creation of yet another special fund in the Oregon state budget. If you take a look at the chart below, you'll see that (often through our initiative process), we have carved out little entitlements for so many individual programs that everything else shares a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. This ballot measure creates no new revenue, so the money has to come from higher tax receipts (some years yes, others no) or from the three biggest categories: Education (more than half), Public Safety, or Human Services. The $800 per high school student allocation would be about $90 million. If one quarter of students take CTE classes in a given year, that's $3200 for each student, about a third what the state spends on the rest of those students' education.

Shall we also create a special fund for arts education? Another for science? Another for elementary music? How about bilingual schools and foreign language programs? And what about the balance between elementary, middle, high school, and college students? If we want to make public colleges affordable, where does that come from?

It probably comes down to whether you trust the state and legislature to spend general fund dollars wisely and whether you think the things our state government does are valuable. I actually do have a level of confidence and believe that some services that are needed might not be obvious to me.

The Washington Post feels the same, citing Oregon as the most honest state government.

There's no military budget for the state and no secret NSA or CIA funds. It's just stuff for you and I.
So I support CTE. I am glad the federal government gives our CTE programs in Oregon $13,500,000 per year through Perkins funds. I believe school districts will continue to offer CTE. But I worry that CTE and everything else that makes for a comprehensive high school has eroded. When I taught at Hidden Valley, we offered Spanish, French, and German. Now none of the three high schools in the district offers anything but Spanish. Music was a full-time program; now it has part-time teachers in the county schools.

I'm hesitant to keep carving up our state budget and locking in funds for this pet program or that one. What do you think? No one seemed to care enough to write an opposing statement, so am I out on a limb here?