I became interested in school funding in Oregon when the topic was raised in my Capstone class. When I started researching it I was fairly surprised to learn that Oregon is ranked 41st in the nation, when it comes to education. I knew we weren’t among the highest ranked, but 41st is shocking. Apparently this is nothing new. Oregon has been steadily declining in the area of test scores and state funding per student since 2003. When the economy took a plunge, the State of Oregon’s solution to it’s budget crisis was to slash education funding. In the 2011-2012 school year it hit a record breaking low of 89% of the national average.
In January 2015 the Education Week Research Center released a “state report card“, highlighting education statistics for every state in the nation, giving them each a grade, and ranking them. Oregon’s overall state grade was a C-, with a ranking of 41. When it comes to education financing, Oregon ranked 36, with a grade of D+. This paints a very clear picture of the crisis in Oregon’s education system. Our education system is failing our children, plain and simple.
It’s my opinion that there are a number of ways to improve the system. The first, and quickest, would be for policy makers to stop use education as a bargaining tool. It seems like every time the state wants voters to pass an unpopular tax increase they passively threaten to cut funding to education and state police, if they don’t get their money. With all the different ways for the state to cut corners, and with all the unnecessary fat that could be trimmed, education should never even be on the table. The first step would be for voters to stop standing for it. People are so quick to blame the teachers for low test scores that they don’t see the root of the problem. Instead of holding policy makers accountable for adequate funding, we’re making martyrs out of our teachers.
Another way to fix the education crisis is to reform the distribution of funds. In Portland you have the West side schools, like Lincoln and Wilson, that are in wealthier parts of town. Every school in the district gets a certain amount of state funding based on the number of students enrolled, but what ends up happening with a lot of the schools from wealthier neighborhoods is that, in addition to the standard state funding, they also get a lot of money donated from alumni and other community partners. All that money goes directly to the schools while bypassing district channels. This becomes a problem because businesses in those areas tend to be more upscale, with more disposable income to distribute and donate than businesses in the poorer neighborhoods. So schools like Franklin and Jefferson, in lower-income areas and with much fewer high-end businesses to donate to schools, end up with much less money coming in than their more affluent counterparts. Richer schools are able to use their supplemental funding to employ more teachers and fund more programs for students. They have more books and better equipment than the poorer schools. Even the best teachers in the world can only do so much with inadequate materials.
My final thought on the subject is that the quality of our schools and our children’s education lies not only in the hands of policy makers in Salem, but also in the hands of voters. I know it’s a bit cliche, but the truth is there’s a serious lack of adequate education funding in this state because we allow there to be. Shame on us. Our children deserve better.