Welcome to Mississippi. When I lived in Tennessee, the one thing we consoled ourselves about was that our schools weren't as bad as Mississippi's. They weren't great, but they weren't the armpit of the nation, either.
Now, it appears Oregon is becoming the Misshap of this new century. The Philadelphia Inquirer has termed Oregon "a poster state of fiscal crisis." Garry Trudeau, the creator of "Doonesbury," is fueling the flames on President Bush's "let no child be left behind" call for education with the cartoon strip adding to its Bush conversation balloon, "... except for Oregon and a few other loser states."
When I left Tennessee to go to school in Boston, the faculty actually took bets as to whether I would be wearing shoes when I arrived for classes. That's what it's like to be an emerging adult who comes from a part of the country that doesn't appear to value education. People expected ignorance.
What's it like, coming from a not-so-good school system? I saw a genius who didn't have the teachers to guide him in advanced placement and college-level courses end up in a state school when, in any kind of a decent school system, he could have won a full scholarship to any school in the world.
I saw the best teachers struggle to make ends meet until they gave up and moved north. I saw other teachers, forced to educate students in classes they themselves weren't familiar with. My geometry teacher, for example, took her degree in French. The English teacher suffered a stroke, so they put her in charge of remedial English, since she was "slow too."
That's where Oregon is going. In Pendleton, we have no true talented and gifted program anymore. At PHS the French program has disappeared. There's no home economics at the middle school.
California and other states that have committed to quality in education are going to woo many of our best teachers away. If it keeps up, we won't hear about our children getting scholarships to well-respected universities outside of Oregon. And, we'll never be able to chart how many kids stop with high school, because there aren't enough people to steer them and inspire them onward.
The voters spoke, say the politicians. They think that because Measure 28 failed, that means we want to cut back on quality in education. I don't think it was because the voters were opposed to education, or senior services, or jails for inmates, or any of the things that are facing huge setbacks. I believe, instead, that it was because it was just one more patch when radical surgery is needed.
Our new governor wants Oregon to heal itself by attracting new business. However, with the dismal fiscal state of our services, how easy will it be to do that?
Cuts in education should not affect our classrooms. They should not affect our students. They should not cheapen their educations. Cuts in education should start at the top - with the salaries paid to the highest officials. Legislators should take a long, hard look at how we administrate education. The local school districts have shown repeatedly that they are doing the best they can. What needs to be cut is the system that lies above their uneasy heads.
In addition to the cuts, the Legislature needs to come up with a clear, dependable spending plan that will keep education funding on a pace with inflation. I don't care if it comes from the lottery, a (gasp) sales tax, or what. The fact is, it has to come.
If all the local school districts are left with are choices like cutting the number of teachers, closing needed schools, shortening the period students are in school or killing off entire programs of study - then it's time we "laid off" a few of the upper tier people and used their six-figure incomes to keep the systems running.
Recently, I ran a simple search on the Internet. "Oregon education fiscal crisis" were my key words. I was faced with 19,500 items that contained those words. When I changed the Oregon to Mississippi, I got 13,900.
Gov. Kulongoski wants to "grow" Oregon, as he puts it. I've got news for him - Oregon won't grow until it offers quality services not just for those who would relocate here, but for those who have their roots firmly entrenched in this soil.
Terry Murry welcomes input and suggestions from readers. She can be reached at email@example.com, or c/o EO, P.O. Box 1089, Pendleton, OR 97801.