Legislators plan to waste precious time and money touring the state to learn what is already well-known.
The Joint Committee on Student Success will seek answers to the state’s abysmal high school graduation rate with a year-long tour starting after this year’s short legislative session ends March 11.
The plan, according to a report in The Portland Tribune, is modeled on last year’s successful transportation effort, which led to bipartisan approval of a $5.3 billion package in the 2017 legislative session.
Oregon’s low graduation rate — third worst in the nation for 2016 — isn’t new, nor are plans to address it. Remember former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s focus on early education, third-grade reading and ninth-grade course completion? In 2016, voter-approved Measure 98 targeted career-technical courses, college credit classes and anti-dropout efforts. Most recently, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson issued an audit in December noting failures of the state Department of Education to use data collection and analysis to help school districts keep kids in school. The department agreed and said it was already doing some of them, but cited limited resources.
Sen. Mark Haas, D-Beaverton, is a member of the touring group and also chairs the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue. He said recommendations could include a business tax, kicker reform or changes to the state’s approach to property taxes.
Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, said the focus should be on education policy, not just revenue.
First, lawmakers need to identify so-called best practices to improve the state’s education system and specifically its graduation rate. They also must figure out how to avoid another turn into grand schemes that disintegrate before bearing fruit.
To pay for their policies, they’ll need to examine the larger issue of how the state’s budget is already growing faster than the state can support. That means trimming soaring costs for staff and curbing the control of public employee unions. It means setting priorities and paring government accordingly.
It does not mean frittering away time and money on a publicity tour that will tell lawmakers nothing they can’t learn with targeted hearings and staff research.