Oregon's public high school graduation rate is a disgrace.
We've known this for years. Talking about it hasn't helped. Occasional infusions of cash from the Legislature have only been hindered by budget cuts in subsequent years.
It's the perfect illustration of the old definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again but hoping for a better outcome.
So we were gratified to hear this week that the Legislature will take a year to listen to Oregonians throughout the state, in hopes of coming up with a new and better solution.
First, let's look at the numbers. As Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson recently wrote, in an opinion piece that ran on our pages, Oregon's high school graduation rate was an "embarrassingly low 75 percent in 2015-16." Oregon is almost 10 percent below the national average and has ranked among the worst five states for five years in a row, Richardson wrote. He went on to outline the worst parts of the annual report: graduation rates students with disabilities (55.5 percent), economically disadvantaged (68.1 percent), current English learners (52.9 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native (56.4 percent), African American/Black (66.1 percent), and Hispanic/Latino (69.4 percent).
None of this is new. We've known that these statistics were abysmal for years now.
So the Oregon Senate and the Oregon House announced this week the creation of a Joint Committee on Student Success. Three lawmakers representing Washington County will serve on this committee: Sens. Brian Boquist, Ginny Burdick and Mark Hass.
This isn't just another committee. The Joint Committee on Student Success is patterned after the innovative and — in our thinking — wildly successful Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization.
That committee spent a year — in 2016 and 2017 — touring the state, talking to people all over, and getting input from local governments, farmers, business people, voters, and transportation professionals.
When the committee was done, it put together a bipartisan proposal, with membership from both the House and Senate, for consideration in the 2017 legislative session.
The $5.3 billion package of transportation projects — the largest anyone in this state has seen in decades — stretches over a 10-year period and includes registration fees and new taxes on payroll, new vehicle purchases and bicycles priced more than $200. It includes four increases in the gas tax stretched over a seven-year period. And it pays for repairs to highways, city transportation projects, bus transit, walking and bike paths, bridges ... you name it.
In Washington County, that includes $22 million for design work on The Newberg-Dundee Bypass and Highway 99W; $44 million for Highway 217 southbound through Beaverton; $54 million for Highway 217 northbound in the same area; plus money earmarked for the county and for most cities within the county.
The bill passed with more than 60 percent "yes" votes in both chambers. Democrats and Republicans alike crafted the bill, then voted for it.
Nobody predicted in early 2016 that the transportation committee would come up with such a wide-sweeping proposal. Or that it would easily clear the "super-majority" hurdles in both chambers with bipartisan support.
But they did. And it did.
Now legislative leaders want to do the same thing for public schools.
The Joint Committee on Student Success will kick off right after the 2018 short legislative session ends in March. The committee will tour the state to hold hearings and to gain insight from urban, suburban and rural communities, and from conservative, moderate and liberal Oregonians. Members from both chambers and both parties will take part.
A year from now, as the long 2019 session gets set to begin, will we be talking about a comprehensive, big-picture set of education reforms, including both content (what is taught, and how), as well as funding reform?
We better be.
Doing the same thing year after year — arguing about two sets of budget numbers, and citing "best practices," and shaking our heads when state graduation rates remain in the bottom five nationally — won't do it anymore.
This Joint Committee on Student Success isn't guaranteed to succeed.
It's just guaranteed not to be the same-old same-old. And that's something.
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