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Measure 98 funding comes with challenges for districts

By Jake Arnold,  jarnold@osba.org

Measure 98 passed easily in November, but translating it to reality is proving tougher. On Jan. 30, during an Oregon Department of Education (ODE) rules hearing, school officials outlined potential difficulties in creating and complying with new rules governing the act and its requirements.

The measure, formally known as the High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness Act, was aimed at adding career and technical education (CTE) programs, as well as promoting college opportunities and reducing dropouts.

School districts and charter schools are required to create a biennial plan for how they will spend the Measure 98 money in all three areas: CTE programs, college readiness and dropout prevention. Plans that don’t address all three will not be approved. Schools are not required to apply, but the act creates a fund to provide schools approximately $800 per high school student.

Superintendents pointed out that because money can’t be granted until the state budget is signed, probably sometime in July, schools will have a difficult time hiring teachers, planning courses and setting up partnerships with businesses with that late start.

“We’re talking about individuals’ lives … and losing teachers to other districts,” said BJ Black, director of secondary education for the Eugene School District. “If you’re trying to get an industry person to come in, this makes them crazy. This looks like incompetence.”

The act requires school districts to “establish or expand” programs, but smaller districts are limited in what they can feasibly do to expand these programs. CTE programs in particular were addressed. Smaller districts will have a hard time finding both qualified teachers for CTE programs as well as enough students to make it reasonable to offer courses of study.

The act also says schools cannot use the money to “maintain programs” established before July 1. Districts are worried that to meet the rule’s requirements while also meeting their budgets, they will have to halt established programs to begin unproven ones.

Expansion might be impossible because a superintendent can’t make more kids take a class if it already is reaching all the kids who want to take it, so new programs would have to be established. Spending money on current programs to make them more effective for students already in the programs wouldn’t necessarily satisfy the act’s requirements to “expand and establish.”

Furthermore, new programs take considerable resources to set up and often involve multi-year series of classes or events. Schools, teachers and students are left with the uncertainty of whether the next Legislature will continue to support the program or if the school, teachers and students will suddenly be left in the lurch.

Some districts have expressed worries about local education policies being dictated from Salem, and others said addressing some implementation issues would require statutory changes rather than ODE’s rules process.

Emily Nazarov, operations policy analyst for ODE, was careful to point out this is a statutory measure approved by voters and ODE is limited in how much it can adjust the rules. Significant changes to the wording of the act would have to be made through legislative action.

The State Board of Education must pass the new rules by March 1. ODE is taking comments through Feb. 23. Comments can be submitted to Nazarov at emily.nazarov@state.or.us.