Letter: Support Measure 98 to help high school students

By Don Carter

I teach manufacturing and construction at a public high school here in Bend. My students learn everything from the basic skills of woodworking and construction to computer-integrated manufacturing with robotics systems. They also learn skills directly applicable for good-paying jobs right here in Central Oregon.

In short, our students have a chance to learn practical, real-world skills that help them find rewarding careers and local jobs — whether or not they attend college. It’s career technical education (CTE) and used to be called vocational education.

CTE is a proven way for high-schoolers to learn hands-on skills, as well as basic skills employers are screaming for, like professionalism, problem-solving, critical thinking and teamwork.

Exposure to this education prepares students for the future, whether they become a doctor, an engineer or a mechanic.

This is why I am voting for Measure 98. Oregon doesn’t have a statewide funding for these classes. Schools compete for a limited number of short-term grants.

Measure 98 would provide stable funding so that schools don’t have to compete to offer CTE. There are all kinds of vocational and career tech classes that relate to traditional and high-tech careers that our kids could be taking.

For many students, applied learning is the way they connect the dots on math, science, reading and writing. It’s no surprise that Oregon students who take two or more CTE classes graduate 15 points higher than the statewide average.

Unfortunately, most students across Oregon don’t have the same opportunities as the ones at my school. Not even close.

Only a quarter of Oregon’s high-schoolers take a CTE class. Basically, vocational education in Oregon was eviscerated during the downturn almost a decade ago

Slashing vocational education was a huge mistake, and it’s one reason why Oregon now has the fourth-lowest high school graduation rate in the country.

One in four Oregon students don’t graduate on time and that adds up to more than 10,000 students each year falling off a cliff. At the same time, local businesses that require skilled workers are having a tough time filling good-paying jobs — jobs that start at $35 an hour plus benefits and retirement.

The bottom line is, whether an Oregon student gets CTE classes these days is luck of the draw — it comes down to where you live because schools are competing for grants.

Too many students get the short end of the stick.

Measure 98, which is on the November ballot, would help ensure that every Oregon high school student has access to career technical education. In addition, Measure 98 would help give all students the opportunity to take early college classes, as well as extra counseling and other support if they need it.

Here’s how Measure 98 is funded: State officials are already projected to collect an additional $1.6 billion in taxes over the next two years because both the population and economy are growing. Measure 98 directs state lawmakers to devote a small portion of that new, unallocated money to Measure 98’s three areas. It’s about $150 million a year or just a little over one percent of the entire state budget.

If Measure 98 passes, the Bend-La Pine school district will receive an estimated $4.2 million for Career Technical Education, college prep and counseling.

It’s such a no-brainer that it’s no surprise Measure 98 has the support of folks from the Oregon Business Association and Bend Chamber of Commerce to the Sierra Club and AFL-CIO. Even both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates support Measure 98.

Let’s give our students the training and skills they need to succeed in high school and in life. Please join me in voting yes for Measure 98.

— Don Carter lives in Bend and teaches at Bend High School. The views represented are his own.

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