Ask a parent whether every teenager is well-served by Oregon’s public school system.
Then ask a teacher, and an administrator.
Most importantly, ask a student.
They will all agree that public high schools must do a better job of providing relevant classes and skills that will help students make their way in the world.
That’s what Oregon Measure 98 is all about.
It would provide funding for school districts to offer vocational and technical training — including agriculture. Such classes — called career technical education nowadays — open doors to those students whose interests aren’t necessarily in academics. The classes help them understand how academic subjects such as mathematics and the science are relevant and provide them with skills that will open the door to jobs.
For decades Oregon high schools have been short-changed. Because the state and federal governments have placed so many random requirements on them, from common core to certificates of mastery and other mumbo-jumbo, many school districts were forced to drop non-required courses such as vocational training.
At the same time, the graduation rates plummeted as high school lost relevance for many students. In 2014, Oregon’s 72 percent graduation rate ranked 46th in the nation.
Not coincidentally, many young men and women who did graduate were not ready to enter the work force. They had no marketable skills.
Teenagers have a lot of interests. Some are interested in academics, which is terrific. But many are interested in farming, ranching, welding, electronics, robotics, health care fields and other skills that could provide them with a living-wage job.
Measure 98 will train those students at a relatively small cost to the state. It will not require a tax increase, only that the legislature re-set its priorities and recognize the importance of providing adequate funding to the state’s high schools.
Measure 98 isn’t only about vocational education.
It would provide the money to offer college-level or other advanced classes to high school students, giving them a start on their college educations.
It would also help high schools work with students to keep them in school. A high school dropout in the 21st century will face a steep uphill struggle in the workforce, and in the world.
Some people will say they don’t care about dropouts, or about vocational education. They obviously haven’t tried to hire any employees lately. Many high school graduates and dropouts are unprepared even for the most basic entry-level job.
Others worry that the state can’t afford such an ambitious effort. Our answer: It can’t afford not to. The students and the state economy suffer because of the lack of funding for Oregon’s public school system. It’s shameful.
The state’s leaders always seem to find money for half-baked health care websites that don’t work or for bridges that aren’t built. But they whine and moan when it comes to funding schools and colleges in this state. It’s time for all of them, Republicans and Democrats, to get a wake-up call.
This is it.
You’ll note that a broad coalition of unions and other organizations supports Measure 98. They include the Oregon Agriculture Teacher’s Association, AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, the International Longshore Workers Union, PCUN, the NAACP, the Eugene and Medford chambers of commerce, the Associated General Contractors and the Democratic, Independent and Progressive parties.
That’s OK. If you put us in a room with most of these folks, we probably couldn’t agree on what to have for lunch, let alone agree on a ballot measure.
But when it comes to providing a good education to the next generation, we all can agree that Measure 98 is a necessary step in the right direction.