Enough Is Enough!

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This blog and our Facebook page are intended as a forum for the many of us who are angry, discouraged, frustrated, and fed up with Oregon’s disinvestment in our children – the short-sighted inability of the adults in this state to invest in schools, housing, health care, infrastructure (other than prisons), and everything else that will support successful, healthy children and a strong, vibrant economy.

This site is not affiliated with any organization or particular agenda; we simply believe it is time for everyday people – parents, kids, grandparents, neighbors, businesspeople, everyone who cares about Oregon – to speak up, get organized, and work together to make this state a better place for the next generation of children.

Please join us in this grassroots effort: “like” the Facebook page, post your comments and thoughts, and join us as we work to organize everyday folks to put pressure on Salem to make our kids their priority.

My rant to Governor Kitzhaber

With the recent UPSET rally, the May 31 SOS day of action, legislators mulling potential fixes, Our Oregon’s corporate kicker reform campaign out gathering signatures, and lots of grassroots frustration and energy, we’re getting some momentum around fixing our crisis in funding schools and essential services.

One important action we all can do right now? It’s vital that we in the grassroots write or call the Governor’s office to demand tax/funding reform – you can contact him using this handy online form.

My take? The Governor needs to step up and lead. We’re at the breaking point in this state and are fed up with waiting for leadership on our state’s funding crisis. The Governor needs to get out in front on this issue and make sure that significant tax/funding reform happens in 2013. His failure to take the lead on funding reform is unacceptable.

Here’s what I wrote to the Governor and his Oregon Education Investment Board- scroll down to read his office’s response (which all of us who write to him on this topic are receiving).

This letter was submitted as testimony for the May 8 OEIB meeting and can be found online here: http://www.oregon.gov/Gov/OEIB/Docs/nnAdkins.pdf  I also read it into the record at the May 14 Portland Public Schools board meeting.

Dear Gov. Kitzhaber and members of the Oregon Education Investment Board:

I write as a local school board member, and as a concerned Oregon voter, to urge you to be true to the “Investment” part of your name. Please become a champion for funding reform. Accountability goes both ways, and you are failing to be accountable for this state’s disinvestment in its children.

I fully understand that funding alone will not solve our state’s problems – we need to tackle PERS reform, battle rising health care costs, improve teacher quality, close the achievement gap, and much more at both the state and local levels. But to focus solely on school district “accountability,” as you appear to be doing, with zero focus on the funding side of the equation, is outrageous and unacceptable.

There is no way that this state can reach your ambitious and laudable 40-40-20 goal without tax and funding reform – without actual “Investment” in Oregon education.

I deeply appreciate that the Achievement Compacts include the Quality Education Model (QEM) level of funding number for each district. Yet you are ignoring the QEM, and I hear that many legislators “don’t believe in the QEM.”

I don’t believe in Measure 5 and Measure 11 – but like the QEM, they are in the State Constitution, and I have to abide by them every day. It is appalling that legislators are picking and choosing which parts of the Constitution to they will adhere to.

What’s not to “believe” about the QEM? Are you even talking about it? Have you even looked at the most recent recommendations in the Quality Education Commission’s report? There is nothing extravagant in the QEM – it contains common-sense goals for schools like reasonable class sizes, sufficient FTE to provide enrichments like library, PE and art, and up-to-date curriculum. It’s a research-based, best-practices guideline for what every Oregon student needs and deserves. Why on earth are you not pursuing it on behalf of our students?

My fear is that school districts will be caught in a cruel catch-22: should we, through extraordinary effort, manage to eke out achievement gains despite the current inadequate level of funding, the claim from Salem will be that we “don’t need” additional funding. On the other hand, should Oregon school districts, with our shortened school years, large class sizes, reduced enrichments, and overworked teachers and principals, fail to make the achievement gains you demand, we’ll be told we don’t “deserve” additional funding.

If you truly believed in your mission as the Oregon Education Investment Board, you would be championing the QEM and charting a pathway forward for how we as a state can fund education and essential public services at the level Oregonians need and deserve. There’s no reason we can’t do this along with working on PERS, health care, teacher quality, and all the other issues as well. Our state is in crisis and we need to address all aspects of this enormously complex challenge. Please become a champion for tax and funding reform and acknowledge the reality that our kids cannot thrive in the current funding environment. Please invest in Oregon kids.

Sincerely,

Ruth Adkins

Portland, Oregon

Here is the stock response the Gov’s office is sending out:

From: GOV Constituent Representative <constituent.representative@state.or.us>

Date: Wed, May 9, 2012 at 4:29 PM
Subject: Governor’s response to your email

May 9, 2012

 Dear Ms. Adkins:

 Thank you for contacting me regarding your concern about education funding. I appreciate hearing from you about this important issue.

 This biennium is going to be our most difficult. We are at or near a low-point in state revenues, but we are at or near the highpoint in terms of human need. Balancing the budget required some very difficult choices. I understand that the reductions in this budget will be hard for schools, teachers, students, and their families.

Like you, I believe our system of public education is underfunded at all levels – from early childhood to post-secondary education. The issue of securing long term, stable funding for our schools cannot be ignored and I have been having preliminary meetings with various stakeholders to get the issue of Oregon’s volatile system of public finance back on the table.

 But that fact, that we do not currently have all the resources we need, does not negate the imperative for deep systemic changes – in fact it only increases the urgency. We may not be able to do more for a while, but we MUST do better, now. We must improve our systems and invest in proven practices that can improve results from students today and increase resources for teachers. As more resources become available, we must be prepared to reinvest in an education system better designed for the 21st century — one that integrates early childhood services, K-12, and post-secondary education and training.

That is part of the new context I am trying to create.

 In 2011, we started the critical work of aligning our entire state public education system — from prekindergarten through college — to support students more effectively and invest in better learning outcomes. That work included the creation of the Oregon Education Investment Board and continued this year with successful legislation to integrate early learning programs and establish an Oregon-focused alternative to the federal No Child Left Behind law. 

 Oregon has more than 108,000 at-risk children under the age of six, and fewer than half of them get the nutrition, health care, or pre-school services they need to ensure they are ready for kindergarten. Further, early childhood programs often lack coordination and accountability, and are not integrated with the K-12 system. We all pay the price down the road, with an elevated high school drop-out rate and increased costs for counseling, remediation, social dependency, and corrections. Oregon needs a more effective strategy — one that addresses the developmental needs of children and invests in early learning programs that achieve results and prepare kids for educational success.

 During the 2012 session we adopted the Early Learning Council’s recommendations to streamline and strengthen more than two dozen state programs for children from birth to age five and help more at-risk youth arrive in kindergarten with the skills and support they need to succeed in school. Specific strategies include local oversight, incentives for improving the quality of services, and, above all, improved accountability.

 Next year’s incoming kindergarten class marks a new beginning. These kids will graduate from high school in 2025, the target date for achieving our statewide goal of a 100 percent high school graduation rate. That’s just 13 years away and a tall order given that Education Week recently ranked Oregon 46 out of 50 states in K-12 achievement.

 Our choice for the class of 2025 is clear: we can stick with federal control and a punitive system that has not served our students or schools, and an over-reliance on standardized testing as the single measure for student achievement. Or we can pursue an alternative that’s authentic, that sets high but achievable learning objectives, and that is ultimately accountable to parents, educators, Oregon taxpayers, and, most importantly, to kids across the state. The time is right for a home-grown alternative that focuses on a small number of outcome-based measures — like third-grade reading, high school graduation, and closing the achievement gap — that, if met, can accelerate learning and free up resources vital to providing comprehensive education.

 In January 2012, the state applied for a waiver from the narrow provisions of No Child Left Behind. In its place the state will work with school districts to outline meaningful achievement goals for schools and students while allowing schools more flexibility on how to achieve those goals.

 Thank you again for contacting me. I encourage you to learn more about my agenda to improve education in Oregon by visiting www.governor.oregon.gov.  If you are on Facebook, you can follow me at www.facebook.com/johnkitzhaber.

 

Sincerely,

John A. Kitzhaber, M.D.

Governor


Thoughts? Comments? If you’ve read this far, please join me in contacting the Governor. He needs to hear from Oregonians that inaction is not an option. Already written or called? Do it again.

“Grant us Peace, Give us Courage”: A Teacher’s Lament

Due to years of disinvestment at the state level, and the inaction of our Legislature and Governor on tax and funding reform, school districts all over Oregon are making heartbreaking cuts to the arts, PE, library, and other so-called enrichments — the programs which according to the state’s own Quality Education Model should be provided in every school for every child.

Here is a powerful statement from veteran music teacher Kim Heron, whose students performed for State Superintendent Susan Castillo when her school was honored with Celebrating Student Success awards April 10.  “You are the best of the best, and serve as shining examples for schools across the state,” Castillo said to school leaders at a ceremony.

Kim Heron’s position is being cut next year, as her school is losing 3 FTE as well as their federal Title 1 funding. How can any school in Oregon be a “shining example” when our state and country refuse to invest in the very programs that will support their success?

“Amani Utupe   – a phrase from Kenya which means “Grant us Peace, Give us Courage.”  My name is Kim Heron and I’m the music teacher here at Atkinson School.  We’ve built a strong  school and a strong community at Atkinson by celebrating and educating the whole child.  So I have a heavy heart today.  I’m happy to share our work with you and very sad to share that next year music and PE have been eliminated from our school program. But I know that’s not the wish of this community or this administration.  I know that Atkinson is only one school of many throughout the district that has had to make very difficult, tough choices regarding which programs to keep and which ones to cut.  And Carole, I don’t lay blame on you or our school board – you’ve had to make gut wrenching decisions on school closures.  And really, Susan, school districts across the state are dealing with the same issues – it’s not just Portland.  

“Grant us Peace, Give Us Courage”.  On a national level, public education has always been a priority.  What has happened to us?  Where is the will for our children?  John Kennedy said, “The life of the arts, far from an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.” So I’d like to share a moment of silence for the kids – all over this great nation – that will not get the opportunity to sing or play an instrument or run around the gym or try a new sport. 

1 minute of silence 

Our next song is: “You’re Gonna Reap, Just What You Sow”

Thank you, Kim Heron, for your outstanding service to children, and for your eloquence.

A step in the right direction: Our Oregon moving forward with corporate kicker reform

Good news: “To the Ballot! Our Oregon begins signature gathering on corporate kicker reform”

This is a very modest step and just a small piece of the funding/taxation picture, but in the current crisis, any progress is better than none.

Keep an eye out for info on how to help gather signatures. According to the Oregonian, 116,284 valid signatures are needed by July 6 to make the November ballot. Visit Our Oregon’s website to find out more and get involved.

Of course, in a properly functioning system, this would be coming from the Legislature for approval by the people (since it’s a constitutional change), not from the people to a non-acting Legislature.

But at this point, we’ll take it. Let’s get this done!

QEM Difference #1 – Amity School District

The State’s new Achievement Compacts contain one vital piece of information we’ve never seen before: how much state funding each school district in Oregon would receive if the state’s own Quality Education Model (QEM) were funded by the Legislature, as is stipulated in the State Constitution.

So referring to the state’s Achievement Compact documents, let’s check out the numbers for an alphabetical selection of districts around the state, starting with Amity, a Yamhill County town whose school district consists of one elementary, one middle, and one high school. (A budget survey on their website asking for input on where to take additional cuts gives insight into some of the challenges they have been facing.)

Amity’s state funding for 2012-13: $6,257,665

Amity’s 2012-13 QEM recommended funding level: $8,465,556

Amity High School

Increased funding if the QEM were funded by the Legislature (the QEM Difference):  $2,207,891 or a 35% increase in funding for their schools. 

Remember, the QEM funding level provides for

  • Adequate Staffing
  • Added instructional time and activities for students not meeting standard
  • Curriculum development and technology support
  • On-site instructional improvement
  • Professional development for teachers and administrators
  • Adequate classroom supplies
  • Adequate funds for building maintenance

Amity’s representatives in Salem are Sen. Brian Boquist

and Rep. Jim Weidner.

What are Amity’s legislators doing to provide the Quality Education Model for the children in their community? 

Do you know about the QEM difference?

Thanks to hard work by advocates and some electeds in Salem, the Governor’s Oregon Education Investment Board‘s new Achievement Compacts include data on the differential between each Oregon school district’s current level of funding and what their funding would be if the Quality Education Model were supported by the Legislature.

While the Achievement Compacts remain one of the many unfunded mandates handed down by Salem, it is a significant step forward to include the QEM numbers – what we call the QEM Difference.

What exactly is the QEM, and what would it provide?

As outlined in a January 2007 Quality Education Commission powerpoint – well worth a read for its excellent overview  – the QEM would provide that each Oregon school is funded such that it could provide:

  • Adequate Staffing
  • Added instructional time and activities for students not meeting standard
  • Curriculum development and technology support
  • On-site instructional improvement
  • Professional development for teachers and administrators
  • Adequate classroom supplies
  • Adequate funds for building maintenance

Here are the basics of the QEM prototype schools – in short, what every school in Oregon should provide if we want 90%+ of kids to succeed, and what they could provide if our Legislature funded the constitutionally mandated Quality Education Model:

    • Elementary—340 students
      • All-day Kindergarten
      • Class size average of 20 in primary grades
      • Class size of 24 in grades 4-5
      • 4.5 FTE for specialists in areas such as art, music, PE, reading, math, TAG, Library, ESL, Child Development/Counselor
    • Middle School—500 Students
      • Class size average of 25
      • 1.5 additional teachers for math, English, science
      • Alternative programs for special needs and at-risk students
      • Volunteer coordinator and community outreach worker
      • One counselor for every 250 students
      • Adequate campus security
    • High School—1,000 students
      • Class size average of 24
      • 3.0 additional teachers for math, English, science
      • Alternative programs for special needs and at-risk students
      • Volunteer coordinator and community outreach worker
      • One counselor for every 250 students
      • Adequate campus security
      • School-to-work coordinator


Seems pretty basic, right? Again: this is what every school in Oregon should provide if we want 90%+ of kids to succeed, and what they could provide if our Legislature funded the constitutionally mandated Quality Education Model. So basic…yet seemingly unattainable, if we are to judge by the inaction of our legislators over the past 13 years toward actually funding the QEM.

Coming up: What’s the QEM Difference in your district?