Beyond November and Measure 85: The Need for Public Action Against a Widening Equity Gap (by Guest Blogger Matthew Price)

Note: This post is Part 4 of a four-part series on Measure 85 written by PSU Capstone student bloggers.  Thank you, guest bloggers, for contributing this material and helping in our campaign to educate local voters on measures that impact kids and schools.
With Oregon schools in dire need of more funding, Measure 85 seeks to answer this need. The achievement gap in Oregon is wide, and many students are not getting adequate educations much less the quality education that they deserve considering our rhetoric about being the land of opportunity. However after considering the measure, it seems to be a good intentioned piece of reform that would not provide what it seeks to offer and could potentially harm its constituents in the long term. In order to address the gap, Oregon voters will need to take stronger action on behalf of their schools in order to provide equity to the system.
The measure proposes that the corporate kicker be retained and that money be alloted to the state’s general fund for the purpose of funding public education.[1] The general fund has paid back $2.6 billion to private citizens and $527 million to corporations. [2] Proponents argue that the money is a dire need for already underfunded public schools. The independent “Citizens’ Initiative Review” ruled in favor of the measure by a vote of 19-5. [3]
Why Measure 85 Is Insufficient 
My arguments as to why the measure is insufficient are given briefly:
  1. In the language of the initiative there is no provision against other general fund spending needs being taken from the school budget with those costs being covered by the revenue from the kicker. [4] [5] While it seeks to solve an issue it cannot provide an exact picture of how this will happen.
  2. The kicker is an unstable resource. What guarantee is there that kicker funds would be available after the measure is passed? According to the Willamette Week the kicker is not projected to take effect again until 2017.[6]
  3. By circumventing the legislature with this effort, Measure 85 would remove one bargaining chip in what could be a bi-lateral, long term reform, as an Oregonian columnist argues. [7]
A Call to Public Action
If Measure 85 is not an effective answer to this need to fill the gap, what is? I feel the answer is, at least in part, in concerted public action. Not simply awareness that will wear away after the shock of where our schools are is brought to light, but action. We live in a democracy that thrives on an educated populace. If however, kids are not being educated to a sufficient level this does not bode well for our collective future. Therefore it is our right and responsibility as voters and participants to act on behalf of our state’s kids.
The first mode of action is knowledge. Who are the politicians most responsible for controlling funding? What is in competition for school funding? Are there policies in place that make an inefficient use of state funding? Beyond this knowledge, do people know what is going on in schools? It is easy to read a newspaper article about how a school is failing on standardized tests but do people know that there exists a significant gap between who is succeeding and who is not that bears a strong racial correlation? Are people aware of the overwhelming cost to the state that comes from this gap? [See 8 for a link to the report on the national cost of this gap]
Another phase is political action. Not in terms of checking a ballot measure but in working at the city, county and state level asking those in charge of finances to work on behalf of schools and to work in a way that reflects the urgency of the situation. In Changing the Odds for Children at Risk (2009), Susan B Neuman states that one aspect of a successful program is accountability. The state is running the program that is public schools so they must be held accountable by the voters in ensuring that schools are equipped with enough teachers to do their jobs in the most effective manner and that the teachers are quality professionals, professionalism being another aspect of a successful program.
Advocating for Kids & Schools
As citizens we must push lawmakers during this next session to not stop until tax reform and school budgeting has been thoroughly addressed and solutions are put forward. Handling the revenues for an entire state is no small matter, so it would be idiotic to think that a solution can just be whipped up, but there can be effort put in that direction. It is the opinion of this writer that the effort put into tackling school funding reform will only be as motivated as the effort of those outside of the capitol put into seeing it done.
How Does This Relate to Measure 85?
Measure 85 is an attempt by educators to get something done about the lack of funding. (See the comments section following note 4) However it is not just their job to see that they are given the tools to succeed. They need better than a hope of extra funding. They need the electorate working on their behalf in Salem, pushing for something more than just one part of the kicker to be reworked but a hard look at the whole tax system. (A brief scan of editorials shows that the kicker, both private and corporate, is not a popular concept.) In the rhetoric against this measure many point out that its main backing comes from teacher unions. They play this as a chance for unions to make a buck. However, does it not also stand to reason that teachers are the ones most aware of the need and as such are the most desirous to act?
Oregon schools are at risk of an ever widening gap in equity due in large part to deficient funding. However this measure does not offer a clear solution to this need. The measure has several weak points that make it hard to hope that it will provide the solution to public schools that it claims to be. Rather it is the duty of voters to move beyond acting only in November and become aware of the stark reality facing Oregon and push elected officials to work on the state’s behalf for the good of all.
4. [http://www.registerguard.com/web/opinion/28780760-47/kicker-corporate-tax-measure-refunds.html.csp {see the comments section for a defense of the measure by an advocate from Our Oregon}]
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