Oregon lawmakers approved the allocation of $24 million for outdoor school, which is half the amount that voters hoped for.

The Oregon Legislature formally approved the Higher Education Coordinating Commission 2017-2019 biennial budget, which includes $24 million in lottery funds for Oregon State University Extension Service to oversee a statewide Outdoor School program.

While that sounds like big money, it is half the amount that voters approved when they passed Measure 99 in November 2016. The $24 million is for two years, bringing the number to $12 million per year to be disbursed for programs throughout the state.

A news release from the Gray Family Foundation said, "Receiving $24 million instead of the full $44 million for the program's first two years is not the outcome that Outdoor School supporters had originally anticipated with the passage of Measure 99. However, we believe that it will likely take two years to scale the program to all schools across Oregon."

The statement continued, "The Gray Family Foundation, Friends of Outdoor School and other partners hope that $24 million will provide sufficient funding for OSU Extension Service to administer and successfully launch the new state program, funding all schools that wish to participate in the next two years."

Molalla River School District Superintendent Tony Mann and Business Manager Rick Gill are less optimistic about the impact that the funding will have on Molalla's fifth grade students who have attended outdoor school for the last two years.

Mann considered the past per-student cost of attending outdoor school and suggested that based on rough math, the approved budget does not touch the actual cost of attendance when divided among fifth and sixth grade students throughout the state.

"The level of funding is very minimal when you consider it is statewide," Gill said. "The requirements for an [outdoor school] that will qualify for the funding makes the cost fairly high. There will probably be a gap that will require local funding. The source of that would need to be determined."

Up to this point, outdoor school in Molalla has been funded primarily by PTA, with some support from the school.

Funding issues aside, Mann offered insight into the value of outdoor school for students, which surpasses the sticker tag.

"There's something about being in nature that gets you really clear and focused on what's right in front of you," Mann said. "There's not digital media. There's not soccer practice. There's not all these other distractions."

He continued, "Outdoor school allows students to really be focused in the here and now."

Gill hopes that despite funding obstacles, Molalla's fifth graders will still get the chance to continue participating in outdoor school.

"[Outdoor school] is a unique learning experience and all the students at MRSD should have the opportunity," Gill said. "This will require a team effort from the district, parents and community to make it happen."

Kristen Wohlers
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