By Kailey Fisicaro • The Bulletin

Central Oregon educators are still working out the details on how they’ll spend money from the voter-approved Measure 98, which requires state funding for dropout prevention and career and college readiness programs in Oregon high schools.

Measure 98 is meant to help “establish or expand” courses or programs in three high school spheres:

• Career and technical education, which includes training in manufacturing, construction and automotive skills among other trades.

• Classes that can get students college credit, such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.

• Dropout prevention: Oregon had a 74.8 percent high school graduation rate in 2015-16, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

While voters passed the measure by a wide margin, about 35 percent to 65 percent in the November 2016 election, it wasn’t guaranteed the measure would be fully funded.

The measure directed the Legislature to set aside at least $800 per high school student annually to school districts with “approved plans” for how they would spend the money.

Because the measure does not create any new revenue sources, it relies on growth of the state general fund revenue to pay for the new or expanded courses and programs. For that reason, initial funding for Measure 98 was reduced in its first school year.

Instead of setting aside about $800 per high school student annually, it’s providing closer to about $500 per student.

Jay Mathisen, deputy superintendent of Bend-La Pine Schools, said before the measure passed, he and some other educators were afraid the general school fund would be smaller because of Measure 98.

It’s impossible to know whether that’s the case, Mathisen said, but his district is pleased with the funding.

Bend-La Pine Schools received about $2.46 million in Measure 98 money for the 2017-18 school year. In the future, districts will be expected to submit detailed plans to the state on how they want to spend the money, but in this first year, in part because the funding was approved so late in the session, school districts instead had to sign agreements they would spend the money in Measure 98’s key areas.

Bend-La Pine is spending about half of its Measure 98 money to improve the school district’s graduation rate, Mathisen said. The district graduated 77.5 percent of students on time in 2015-16.

With some of the Measure 98 money, Bend-La Pine is hiring a few graduation coaches, people who will build relationships with high school students who are struggling. Mathisen said those graduation coaches will do one-to-one mentoring, but also help set up systems to help kids to graduate on time.

The district also used some of the money toward staff who can support English language learners in the classroom.

Bend-La Pine enhanced some of its career and technical education courses by adding some higher level courses and buying some new equipment for the manufacturing program.

Because Bend-La Pine had robust Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings, the district spent less money in those areas but is putting some money toward researching this question: “Do we have kids who are ready for those classes who don’t see themselves as ready and can we encourage them to enroll in this rigorous coursework?” Mathisen said.

The research will look at whether students enrolled in dual credit courses are all from a certain ethnicity or background. Then Bend-La Pine can find ways to diversify enrollment in those courses, Mathisen said.

Redmond School District’s plans for Measure 98 money are less defined, but Superintendent Mike McIntosh said his district has been “working feverishly” to apply the money in the ways it was intended.

One plan is to add a diesel mechanic class to Redmond High School next year. The district was also able to bring back its certified nursing assistant program — offered in partnership with St. Charles and Central Oregon Community College — at Ridgeview High School.

Other money from Measure 98 will go toward expanding Redmond’s AVID schools, McIntosh said. AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a national nonprofit group that focuses on offering ways to close the achievement gap and send more kids to college, in part by training teachers to promote certain skills in the classroom.

“That whole premise is how do you create a college-going atmosphere on your campus,” McIntosh said, adding the school district also plans to use Measure 98 money to increase college visitation opportunities and credit recovery classes.

Redmond School District received about $1.1 million in Measure 98 funds for the 2017-18 school year.

Brook Rich is director of career and technical education as well as science, technology, engineering and math at the High Desert Education Service District. Central Oregon school districts contract with High Desert for a variety of services. In her role, Rich can help consult with districts about career and technical education, including how Measure 98 money could be spent to expand offerings and better programs.

Measure 98 money isn’t the end-all, be-all to financing career and technical education, but it is one more “layer in the cake of funding,” Rich said.

In its first year, regulations for how Measure 98 money is spent have been less defined. Rich said although the Legislature allocated the money over summer, the regulatory piece takes time. The Oregon Department of Education, which does the regulating, plans to hire a specialist who will work with districts on their plans for the Measure 98 money, but that hasn’t happened yet, Rich said.

In working with local school districts, Rich has already seen Measure 98 money do some amazing things: Crook County School District, which received about $440,000, added a graphic design program and also put some of its money toward AVID.

At Madras High School in the Jefferson County School District, co-principal H.D. Weddel said his school started a new manufacturing program and put money toward its existing natural resources and forestry program as well as its construction program. The school also started a future center, which helps students with plans after high school and offers mentoring for all juniors, Weddel said.

And for the first time, juniors at Madras High will be offered the ACT, a college assessment test, something Bend-La Pine also offers its 11th-graders. Generally, students pay for college assessment tests. That district received about $402,000 for the 2017-18 school year.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,