Sen. Kathleen Taylor (left), North Clackamas Superintendent Matt Utterback (standing) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (center) listen during student meetings Wednesday with the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success. “Students really know what is going on,” Kotek said. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
House Speaker Tina Kotek got right to the elephant that has been in every room discussing Oregon education.
“There will be a ‘how to fund it’ conversation; I guarantee that,” Kotek said.
Kotek (D-Portland) joined members of the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success on Wednesday visiting the North Clackamas School District, southeast of Portland. It was the committee’s fourth public meeting stop on its tour of Oregon to gather ideas on how to adequately fund Oregon K-12 schools while improving public education.
The how of significant revenue reform depends on voter support, legislators said. Kotek said the public had to believe current investments in education were working before adding more money as part of a 2019 education package.
About two dozen school board members, administrators and education advocates made the case at a community leaders roundtable that improving education would take a variety of programs. They laid out successful programs and showed where more funds were needed to meet the wide range of student needs.
“All of it is the best use of our dollars,” said Kathy Ludwig, West Linn-Wilsonville School District superintendent.
Ludwig compared district programs to a Jenga puzzle. If you pull out pieces such as support for counseling or athletics or music or early learning or career and technical education to add programs elsewhere, some students might fall. Consistent funding with local decision-making about the most effective approaches are crucial to raising graduation rates, she said.
“When funding fluctuates, you can’t keep building off those programs that are having success,” she said.
Funding needs to be reliable, said Liz Hartman, Lake Oswego School Board and OSBA Board member.
“The kids will be here for 13 years, and we need to plan a budget for 13 years,” Hartman said.
Broader community needs, especially affordable housing, were also a big part of the two-hour conversation.
Kathy Wai of the North Clackamas School Board encouraged legislators to think about the whole child and the whole family when considering how to support education. Factors such as affordable housing, health care and family income affect a student’s ability to learn.
“Children don’t live single-issue lives,” she said.
Kotek said she was encouraged by the student-focused roundtable discussion and the sense of collaboration between groups that sometimes have different agendas.
“There is lots of commitment to making this try the try that gets it done,” she said.