M-98 will be on the November 2016 ballot and needs the attention of all Oregon voters interested in our public school system. M-98 asserts an intention to remedy Oregon’s low high school graduation rate. While the goal is noble and shared, the methods proposed to elevate this rate will not get the job done. Worse, the initiative, if passed, can do actual harm. Here are its chief flaws:
➢ It creates a system of winners and losers. By mandating career technical (CTE) and dropout prevention programs as Job Number One, this measure would force school districts to compete for limited funding ($282 million, at $800 per student). Oregon’s many small school districts cannot afford to hire grant writers to compete for this money, so the kids who arguably could most benefit from extra CTE and other funding will be left behind. Only big, affluent districts are likely to win the grants.
➢ A better program already exists. According to Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, 142 Oregon schools, serving more than 85,000 students, have secured career readiness grants. These “CTE Revitalization Grants” leverage additional money from 277 local business and community partners to enable students to benefit from advanced manufacturing, engineering, agricultural science, app development, robotics, tourism, forestry, home renovation, and health care programs. The grants are distributed based on geographic diversity and target historically underserved students. They are designed to lead to high-wage, high-demand occupations. What would happen to the schools who already receive these grants? Would this carefully designed program disappear because of the new mandate? M-98 is unnecessary and threatens well-designed CTE programs.
The ballot is no place for writing a budget, because it allows rich special interests to enact a narrow political agenda without regard to the important balancing act our chosen leaders are constitutionally designated to do on our behalf and with our considered input.
➢ It ignores community priorities and local control. By substituting the proponents’ priorities for those of local communities, M-98 insists that it knows better what is best for Medford and Marcola, for Elgin and Estacada, for Pendleton and Portland. It also ignores the voices of parents, students, teachers, and research-based best practices. Research shows that the best way to reduce dropout rates is to adequately invest in our schools, to lower class size, increase learning time, and bring back music, art, PE, counseling, and free extra-curricular activities. M-98 ignores what works in favor of its political agenda.
➢ It creates an expensive bureaucracy. M-98 requires a complicated and costly scheme of state-level micromanagement, intervention, reporting, and auditing of districts that current state agencies are insufficiently staffed up to manage. For instance, it requires both financial and performance audits by the Secretary of State every year for all recipient school districts, which will rob schools of millions of dollars that could be dedicated to hiring more teachers and restoring electives that have been cut due to insufficient budgets. The measure allows the Department of Education and districts to skim $50 per student off the top to support some bureaucratic administrative requirements, but it does not fund a penny of the multi-million-dollar auditing work. Wouldn’t it be better to devote all that money to Oregon classrooms?
➢ It is unconstitutional and violates voter will. In 2000, Oregonians passed Ballot Measure 1 in every county in this state. The Educational Equity and Accountability Act, which is in the Oregon Constitution, calls for the Legislature to adequately and equitably fund Oregon schools based on sound, research-based best practices, established in law by the Quality Education Commission. This initiative, if passed, would reprioritize education spending according to a limited set of non-research-based ideas instead. It is not constitutionally allowable for a statute to direct decisions of future legislatures, so M-98 is unenforceable, even as it sidesteps the will of the voters when they established their educational priorities in the constitution (Article XIII, Section 8).
M-98 budgets by ballot measure. The Legislature meets every year to develop a budget for Oregon that reflects its citizens’ highest needs and priorities, balancing all interests. The ballot is no place for writing a budget, because it allows rich special interests to enact a narrow political agenda without regard to the important balancing act our chosen leaders are constitutionally designated to do on our behalf and with our considered input. Single-issue budget initiatives can crowd out other vital services and force bad policy choices. Budgeting at the ballot box leads to unintended consequences.
The author of this post prefers to remain anonymous fearing repercussions at work for speaking out on this issue. It isn't the first time we've heard that comment. Thank you author for sharing this important information with PAAOregon.