By Vickie Fleming

As a career educator of more than 35 years, I’ve seen firsthand how Oregon’s reform efforts to help high school students have failed. We now have a chance to do something about it.

In spite of many great teachers and talented students, Oregon has nearly the worst high school graduation rate in the country. Students who manage to graduate are ill-prepared for community college. One in 4 have to take remedial courses. Those who get jobs lack the hands-on skills to get paid well.

The economy in Central Oregon is still in transition from the demise of the timber industry. Those jobs are gone forever, and new jobs in sectors like technology and health care are replacing them. Employers here have good-paying jobs and want to expand their operations. But they can’t find enough skilled workers. Students graduating don’t have the skills that businesses need.

What to do? Take a common-sense approach by increasing vocational training, now known as Career Technical Education. Initiative Petition 65 is a ballot measure that will do just that. We should all get behind its passage.

Let’s target investments and demand better results. Slated to be on the November ballot, IP65 will direct a modest portion of future state funds to programs we know work for high school students. The measure provides an average of $800 per high school student per year.

Right now, there aren’t enough CTE courses for the number of students who want to take them — and at many Oregon schools, there aren’t any CTE classes at all.

IP65 fixes that. CTE classes would be offered in every school.

Many high school students also do not have access to early college programs, Advanced Placement classes, dual enrollment with local community colleges and universities, or International Baccalaureate classes. Under IP65, every high school student could have increased access to such programs.

This initiative will help change our deplorable dropout rate. We know the students most likely to drop out. They suffer from absenteeism, struggle in classes, don’t have adequate course credits to be on track for graduation and are disengaged from school. We can help these students through tutoring, family support, mentoring, counseling and access to coursework that inspires curiosity and teaches real-world problem-solving skills.

IP65 focuses on programs with the best track records for keeping kids in school, boosting graduation rates and preparing students for success in life and future employment. It does not raise taxes or take money from existing programs. It simply directs a small portion of new funding, as our state economy grows, to education programs that work.

The measure also is highly accountable. School districts must apply for the funds, specifying how they will spend the money, and they must report the results.

Regular performance audits will ensure the money goes where it’s supposed to go.

Local schools will work to create these programs up to match the local needs of their kids.

Please help us pass this initiative. IP65 makes Oregon’s high schools a much bigger priority. We can’t wait any longer. Let’s use common sense to support student success – provide relevance and real skills for life.

— Vickie Fleming is former superintendent of the Redmond School District.