Legislators tasked with fixing Oregon’s dismal graduation rate

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Fixing gaps in Oregon’s education system and reversing the state’s third-worst-in-the nation graduation rate is now the responsibility of 14 legislators.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, announced the creation Thursday of the Joint Committee on Student Success.

The panel will explore the best practices used in Oregon’s “most successful schools” and address the gaps limiting student success at other schools, according to a joint statement.

Committee members are expected to develop a plan to improve student success, including a budget proposal ensuring every student in Oregon has the opportunity to achieve success.

The committee will meet monthly, finishing its work by January 2019 before the Legislature convenes.

“We need to educate Oregon’s children the best we possibly can,” Courtney said, adding that state leaders need to understand what’s working and what isn’t. “We need to connect state priorities and funding to local spending.”

Among key indicators of success are graduation rates. Yet in Oregon, one in every four students is failing to graduate on time.

And some students — including students of color, students navigating poverty and English Language Learners — are graduating at even lower rates, according to the latest statewide report card.

Research shows as long as graduation rates are below 100 percent, non-graduates earn less and require more social services, costing Oregonians hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid, lost tax revenue and incarceration expenses every year.

In addition to graduation rates, the committee also will look at early childhood education, fundamental costs and instructional time to find out what community members believe are the most important elements in education today.

Read more: Oregon schools: Diversity and absenteeism up, salaries and discipline down

Kotek said it’s time state leaders come “out of our corners and solve this problem together.”

The new committee will tour the state following the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers will hear from multiple groups, including parents, students, teachers, administrators, school board members and business leaders.

Kelly Carlisle, assistant superintendent for Salem-Keizer Public Schools, said there is “too much variability” in Oregon’s current education system.

“The children in our state deserve a reliable educational experience that stands for excellence and strong outcomes,” he said. “Our teachers and administrators work extremely hard to do this for kids every day, even with the highs and lows that come with our current system.”

Carlisle said it was encouraging to see a joint legislative committee will come together, adding that he hopes “this will be the catalyst that ultimately produces a solution that includes stable and adequate funding for schools.”

Read more: Oregon can do more to boost grad rates

Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, will serve as co-chairs of the committee. Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, and Rep Greg Smith, R-Heppner, will serve as co-vice chairs.

Senate members of the committee are Roblan, Boquist, Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, Tim Knopp, R-Bend, Kathleen Taylor, D-Portland, Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, and Ginny Burdick, D-Portland.

House members of the committee are Smith Warner, Smith, Brian Clem, D-Salem, Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, Julie Fahey, D-Junction City and West Eugene, Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, and Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Read more: Higher Education Coordinating Commission failed to follow Oregon law

*This story was published 4:56 p.m. PT Jan. 4, 2018 and updated 12:46 p.m. PT Jan. 5, 2018 on the Statesman Journal website

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