As policymakers approach budget decisions in the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session, legislators from Hood River are concerned that the state might not fund Measure 98, a high school improvement initiative.
The program directs state education funds to high school programs for dropout prevention, college readiness and career training.
District 26 Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) and House District 52 Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) spoke out in favor of the program at a press conference in Salem Monday. The legislators are part of a bi-partisan coalition that supports fully implementing Measure 98, which has a cost slated at $300 million per biennium.
Measure 98 — a career technical education (CTE) and high school attendance program — passed by voter petition in the November 2016 general election. However, because the measure amends state law, the legislature can change it.
Oregon faces a roughly $1.8 billion budget gap in the 2017-2019 biennium.
Amid that fiscal picture, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has proposed dedicating about half of the measure’s funding. Brown’s proposed budget, released in December, adds $400 per student annually, “with the intention to improve graduation rates.”
Johnson and Thomsen argue the legislature should uphold the voters’ decision and fully fund the program.
“(The voters) are serious about improving Oregon’s graduation rates and they believe that CTE is the vehicle for making it happen,” Johnson said. “The legislature needs to implement the measure in the way that voters intended.”
As Thomsen put it, many students struggle to learn in traditional learning environments and the program could “unleash their true potential by listening to what voters told us to do.”
“The law is designed on choice, at the local level,” Thomsen said. “We can bring about a new age of brighter education outcomes for our future leaders.”
Hood River County voters passed the measure by 68 percent — a slightly larger margin than results in the state as a whole, where it passed by about 65 percent.
In addition to Johnson and Thomsen, Sen. Rod Monroe (D-Portland), Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-Portland), and Rep. Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro), have voiced their support for Measure 98.
According to an Oregon Department of Education memo, Measure 98 aims to improve students’ high school experience and reduce the state’s dropout rate.
Under the approved version of the measure, the legislature must set aside $800 per high school student in a dedicated fund destined for school districts.
Each school district must submit a two-year plan for how they will spend the money, which must be approved by ODE in order to receive the grant, the memo states.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.