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Gubernatorial candidates agree Oregon schools need more funding, services
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Kai Schrosk, 15, had a chance to question Rep. Knute Buehler directly about student mental health issues after the “Debate for Oregon’s Future” on Tuesday night in Portland, the first gubernatorial debate this election season. “Some topics are too big for one minute,” said Schrosk, who attends Colton High in the Colton School District. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
The Oregon gubernatorial candidates’ answers Tuesday night in Portland returned again and again to the need for more programs offered by better-funded public schools but not how to achieve that.
The election season’s first gubernatorial debate featured only questions from Oregon students.
The young people asked Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, Republican Rep. Knute Buehler and Independent Patrick Starnes questions on a wide range of issues, from gun control to e-cigarette regulations, from preventing teen suicides to increasing curriculum about Native Americans. Even when the students didn’t specifically mention schools, the candidates included school initiatives and supports as part of the solution.
“Education is the important issue in this campaign,” said Buehler at one point. He said Oregon has a “classroom-funding crisis” and too many of Oregon’s education dollars are going to retirement benefits. Buehler’s education plan includes a 15 percent increase in school budgets.
Brown touted initiatives during her administration, such as increases in school funding, improvements in rural internet access and creation of the Educator Advancement Council to support and retain high-quality and more diverse teachers.
“Not enough, still more work to be done,” she said.
Brown spent much of the night talking about her administration’s accomplishments while Buehler often argued that Brown had not done enough. Starnes stressed his connections to student concerns, especially his time on the McKenzie School Board.
Deja Preusser, 16, said after the event that she was frustrated that the candidates spent more time talking about what they had done in the past rather than what they were going to do.
Preusser, who attends Portland Public Schools' Lincoln High, asked what the candidates would implement to make sure students receive the mental and physical health care and guidance they need.
Brown and Buehler agreed that schools needed more counselors, health clinics and other resources, but Preusser wasn’t satisfied.
“The candidates could have delved deeper and say what they were going to do,” she said.
Several times during the debate, students pressed for more detailed answers.
KOIN 6 anchor Jeff Gianola, the moderator, had asked the audience at Roosevelt High School to hold their applause so they could get to as many questions as possible, but the crowd erupted after Rose Lawrence, 15, a student at Beaverton School District's School of Science and Technology, repeatedly asked for specifics on protections for LGBTQ students.
Before the event, Justin Thach, 17, said he would be watching for signs of whether the candidates took students’ questions seriously or were just using them as campaign props. After the event, he was satisfied.
“For the most part, you could find a grain of something in their answers,” said Thach, a student at Salem-Keizer Public Schools' West Salem High.
The Oct. 4 debate in Medford and the Oct. 9 debate in Portland will include the public’s questions. Oregonians can submit questions to the KOBI website for Medford and video questions for Portland at The Oregonian / Oregonlive.
Children First for Oregon said the completely student-led format was the first of its kind in Oregon. Children First presented the debate along with KOIN 6 and Pamplin Media Group.
“We hope the voters will be paying attention to the issues that matter to all of our kids and Oregon,” said Tonia Hunt, Children First executive director.
OSBA Board President LeeAnn Larsen (Beaverton School Board) was on the leadership council that helped organize the “Debate for Oregon’s Future.” She said the council tried to gather a diverse cross-section of students. More than a dozen students from eight cities had a chance to ask questions during the televised debate or on stage afterward.
Larsen noted that questions about social issues often led to school-based answers.
“I don’t know if either candidate knows how to solve them without more funding,” she said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA