Another day, another bit of bad news for Oregon’s beleaguered education system.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education noted that Oregon’s graduation rate is at 74 percent. And this at a time when the country has never been better at graduating its students on time. Nationwide, the on-time graduation rate hit 83 percent for the class of 2015, the best mark in our history.
Yet Oregon continues to fall behind the trend.
The state is now third-worst in graduation rate, having been leapfrogged by Alaska and now only ahead of Nevada and New Mexico. The graduation rate for white students in Oregon is better than just one state — but that’s actually an improvement, up from 50th last year to now second from the bottom.
In Oregon, the problems with graduating students on time are multi-faceted.
One reason is surely financial — Oregon students have one of the shortest school years, and are below average for state dollars spent per student. Surely the helpful additions to basic offerings — CTE classes, for instance, along with school nurses and counselors — help keep students on the fringe in school and on track to graduation. Oregon’s fluctuating education budget has not allowed those types of positions and programs to be funded and staffed with enough consistency.
But another, larger reason is cultural in nature. Chronic absenteeism is an ingrained, systemic issue across the state, and it is no different here in Morrow and Umatilla counties. And the absenteeism problem is exacerbated by the state’s short school year, because every minute missed is of greater importance.
Plenty is up for debate in November, but two Oregon measures have the best opportunity at addressing the state education issue. One is Measure 97 — you may have seen a billion ads for it while trying to watch your football game or favorite sitcom. It taxes corporate sales and feeds that money into the general fund, where a percentage of it would then go to education. Measure 98 is a smaller, more precise measure that stipulates money to be used specifically to address graduation rates — strengthening CTE programs and the like.
Whatever your political outlook — and your faith in legislators and state employees to direct and spend money wisely — it’s clear that something is wrong with Oregon education, and it stretches from the top to the bottom, and from homeroom into dining rooms. If November’s measures aren’t your cup of tea, better ideas are needed and they’re needed now.