The floor of the Oregon Legislature is strewn with proposals to revamp K-12 public education. Anyone remember the Quality Education Model? It had the same impact on Oregonians as the designation of the official state flower.
So it's reasonable to roll one's eyes upon hearing that the Legislature created a Joint Committee on Student Success this last January. The committee — made up of House and Senate members; Democrats and Republicans — began touring the state this year, seeking input on what's working, and what's not, in public schools.
The lawmakers bring their show to Beaverton on Wednesday, July 11, with a public open house at Beaverton School District's Arts and Communications Magnet Academy, 11375 S.W. Center St., Beaverton (see story, Page A1).
Oregon's public schools face serious problems. As Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson recently pointed out, the state'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, he said.
However, there is reason to be guardedly optimistic about the Joint Committee on Student Success. That's because the committee — and its path from inception to potential legislation — is patterned after the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization.
In 2015, the Legislature famously fumbled the ball on transportation overhaul, which had been listed as a priority by almost every state leader. After that calamity, the joint committee was created and lawmakers began a barnstorming tour of Oregon: Rural, suburban and urban communities; conservative, moderate and liberal enclaves. The goals: To find out what Oregonians want and need from their transportation system, and what they'd be willing to pay to make it a reality.
The result, an ambitious $5.3 billion package of proposals that passed both chambers in 2017 with wide bipartisan support. Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor's office. But State Rep. Cliff Bentz, an Ontario Republican, praised the transportation package as, "a once-every-10-year exercise. ... It will take another decade to do another package this aggressive." Rep. Richard Vial of Sholls said, "I was hoping for this much but couldn't imagine it."
That's the template.
Now comes the Joint Committee on Student Success.
Like the transportation task force before it, this one is barnstorming the state, including eastern and southern Oregon and communities up and down the Willamette Valley.
Like the transportation task force, the idea is to hear from real people throughout Oregon, and to craft a package of bills that can find support in both chambers, from both major political parties.
That's where residents of Washington County come in.
If you want to have your voices heard, attend the public hearing on Wednesday. Or submit testimony. If you belong to any sort of special interest group, have a representative there. This is your absolute best opportunity to have an impact on what could be the defining package of educational policy changes for this decade.
It's easy to be cynical about lawmakers addressing Oregon's persistent education woes, which have been "baked into" public schools since the passage of tax-cutting measures in the early 1990s.
Don't give in to cynicism. Participate. Make sure your voice is heard.
Because, if not now, when?