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Oregon schools await Measure 98 rules, funding issues

By GORDON OLIVER

Oregon moved toward expanding career and technical education to help reduce dropout rates with voters’ Nov. 8 approval of Measure 98, and now schools await rulemaking and funding decisions.

Districts are gearing up for extra state funding of $800 per high school student beginning next school year. For now, though, they’re in a waiting game as fiscal forecasters examine the state budget and the Legislature braces to deal with an expected deficit in the next biennium.

If fully funded, Measure 98 programs will receive almost $300 million in the next biennium. Larger districts, including Portland and Salem-Keizer would land more than $10 million per year.

But under the budget proposed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, the state has allocated only half of the necessary funding for the 2017-19 biennium.

The money must be used for new programs or expansion of existing programs in all of these three areas: career and technical education (CTE); college-level educational opportunities; and dropout prevention strategies.

Measure 98 included a fiscal escape valve that allows the Legislature to reduce funding for 2017-19 on a prorated basis if the state’s forecast for a revenue increase from 2015 falls below $1.5 billion. That forecast will be released in May 2017, and districts will then have to wait for the Legislature to approve funding based on the usual political balancing act of competing priorities.

For now, the uncertain state budget for Measure 98 means that “all the money is so hypothetical,” said Autumn Foster, communications coordinator for the Canby School District, which operates one of the state’s strongest career and technical education programs.

But regardless of how much the state invests in Measure 98, the amount will add to the current forecast of a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget cycle. And that deficit is the bigger picture that districts worry about as they gear up for the opportunities and challenges created by Measure 98.

The core pro-Measure 98 pitch by Stand for Children, the measure’s chief backer, was that its targeted funding could help increase Oregon’s high school graduation rate, the nation’s third lowest at 74 percent.

David Rosenfeld, campaign manager for Measure 98, acknowledged that the state’s expected budget shortfall makes the Legislature’s job more challenging as it also faces large cost increases in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and health care programs.

“The concern is, ‘How can we do Measure 98 if we have a $1.5 billion shortfall?’” Rosenfeld said, speaking of legislative priorities. “We’re saying, ‘This is not time to crawl info fetal position. You just got a powerful mandate to make this thing work.’ That doesn’t mean there won’t be tensions.”

The next step is for the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to prepare detailed funding rules for State Board of Education approval on March 1. State officials will consult with stakeholder groups and present draft versions of proposed rules to the Board of Education this winter.

Lori Sattenspiel, OSBA’s interim director of legislative services, said OSBA would play an active role in the rules process.

 By July 1, ODE will establish a High School Graduation and College and Career Education Fund that will distribute the allocated funds to school districts.

 The Canby School District has just begun internal discussions of how to expand its career and technical education programs, said Foster, the district’s communications director. The district is looking at how to best use the money to strengthen an already robust program, she said.

 Meanwhile, she said, Canby is more than happy to share its experience with other districts that will be launching or expanding CTE programs.

 Maureen Wheeler, public communications officer for the Beaverton School District, said new Superintendent Don Grotting wants to make a strong focus on career and technical education. Grotting “is looking at ways to expand (CTE) programs and make them more comprehensive,” she said.

 More information about implementation can be found on the ODE website.