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Press Conference for the Oregon Education Investment Board (April 5, 2011)

Thank you for joining us today.  With me are parents, teachers, school administrators, students, children’s advocates, as well as business and civic leaders who recognize that we have an opportunity to transform Oregon’s approach to education funding and governance.  This afternoon, we’ll all head to the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee to testify in support of SB 909, which marks a key step in creating a single, transparent 0-20 education investment system that is integrated, efficient and accountable. 

Our current education funding and governance process is broken and requires a new approach to deliver better results for students, more resources for teachers and better value for taxpayers.

Let me start by saying loud and clear:  Oregon’s education system – the full spectrum from early childhood development through K-12 and post-secondary education and training -- is under-funded…but as our economy improves and we consider new resources, we should be investing in a new and improved education system, designed for the 21st century – and the Oregon Education Investment Board will play an important role.

We cannot hope to achieve the goals for our public education system -- that 100 percent of Oregonians earn a high school diploma; 40% achieve two year of post-secondary education or training; and 40% earn a bachelors degree or higher – unless we change course.

Currently, less than half of at-risk children, age 0-5, receive the support services they need to be ready and able to learn when they get to kindergarten.

Only 25 percent of at-risk children are meeting state benchmarks for reading in first grade.

And fewer than one in four Oregon students are college-ready when they leave high school, yet nearly 60 percent of Oregon jobs expected in coming years will require at least a technical certificate or associates degree.

Education spending – from early childhood through K-12 and post-secondary – accounts for more than 50 percent of Oregon’s general fund budget.

But current budget framework views early childhood, K-12, technical, community college, and university as separate competing entities rather than as part of an interdependent continuum.

These isolated education budgets move independently through the legislative process and funding is based largely on enrollment. Therefore, the fiscal health of our schools, colleges and universities is related to the number of students enrolled, not on how well those students achieve.

This budgeting system – as the incentives within it – must be fundamentally changed if Oregon is to achieve its long term educational and economic objectives.

The call to action is an urgent call.  

The role of the state must be transformed from funder, to investor.  Investments must be carefully calculated to ensure a robust return, and funding must be based on results rather than seat time.

The Oregon Education Investment Board created by SB 909 charts a new course.

It recognizes that early childhood success is the foundation for our efforts to ensure the economic, health and academic success of Oregonians. 

By consolidating and streamlining a half dozen state agencies and dozens of programs within a new Early Learning Council, we’ll be able to identify at-risk kids sooner; coordinate the services they need more efficiently; integrate early childhood services into the K-12 system and measure outcomes to ensure all children are ready to learn when they get to kindergarten and reading by first grade.

That objective alone would have a profound impact on education at the K-12 and even post-secondary level.  Investing in early success will help put more resources in the classroom by reducing the need for remediation and counseling.   And early childhood success is a great predictor of a whether a student is on track to graduate with the skills they need for the workforce or post-secondary education.

We must break down the funding and governance silos created over time that have become barriers to effective teaching and student achievement.  A combined education investment fund offers great potential both for streamlined administration and accountability and strategic funding and decision-making.

Moving away from enrollment-based funding and other artifacts of the current system would open new possibilities and flexibility, allowing investment in key leverage points to keep kids on track to graduate, and implementing a seamless system of grades 11 through 14 to allow students to transition smoothly into college and careers.

As a group of school superintendents recently pointed out – “It should not be hard to let go of the status quo – limping from funding crisis to funding crisis with a system that increasingly cannot deliver for students, bleeds resources away from teachers and provides diminishing returns for taxpayers.”

We have an opportunity to change course today to provide better outcomes for our students, more resources for educators and a more prosperous future for Oregon. 

And now I’d like to turn the mic over to a few Oregonians who can explain why this legislation is so important to them, our kids, and for our state.

Keep up with Governor Kitzhaber