Investing in public schools money well spent
Perhaps the most bittersweet moment I've experienced as a mother was when my 14-year-old daughter came to me and my husband at the dining room table with a list of pros and cons.
As she neared her freshman year of high school, she sat us both down and explained why she no longer wanted to attend public school. It's a moment of great pride when you see your daughter come forward to advocate for herself with extensive research.
At the same time, as a long-time public education volunteer and soon-to-be Oregon PTA president, her list of cons against attending public high school was devastating to hear. She didn't feel she could get what she needed out of public high school. She wanted smaller class sizes. She felt she had not been challenged since elementary school and was concerned she'd get lost in the sea of students.
This decision hurt because of what it said about the state of our school system, but I couldn't disagree with many of her points. She saw her older siblings suffer through some of these problems and wanted something different.
For all my time working in education, this moment highlighted why we need the Student Success Act, a $2 billion education investment package that is long overdue. I've read the bill thoroughly and it makes me hopeful. The Student Success Act is the first time I've seen the kind of comprehensive, meaningful legislation that moves our education system forward.
The Student Success Act will allow Oregon to create an unprecedented investment in early childhood education with increased access to high quality preschool, Head Start and other meaningful programs.
I'm seeing children going into kindergarten woefully unprepared for school. They arrive hungry. They arrive hurt, after experiencing trauma at home that does not put them in a position to learn. Sadly, it's getting worse every year. When children are forced to deal with these challenges, it puts a burden on teachers and counselors who with these increased responsibilities are already spread dangerously thin. Ultimately, students pay the price for these limited resources.
But the Student Success Act can change that.
This legislation will provide funding for early childhood intervention so that challenges students are experiencing are caught early before they get worse and impact their future. It will allow Oregon to build a more equitable education system by targeting resources to students living in poverty and those from traditionally underserved communities.
These will be accountable investments, featuring regular audits to ensure funding is being invested as designed. Many of these investments will be dedicated to helping children who experience trauma growing up. Districts will be able to access mental and behavioral health support, bullying and suicide prevention and greater access to meals.
Given our current funding structure, many schools only have one nurse or counselor available for as little as one to two hours per week, shifting more responsibility onto volunteers like myself to help children in crisis. Our education system can't go on like this.
The Joint Committee on Student Success conducted a thorough and thoughtful process over the past year to get us to this point. They traveled nearly 3,000 miles to 55 schools, including to my community. I attended and provided testimony at a number of these discussions and they listened to our stories of why our public education system has let us down.
I saw their faces when we spoke of a seventh grader a local middle school had just lost to suicide after it was clear resources weren't available for that student.
Our children are crying for help. Their needs aren't being met.
If we catch some of these challenges earlier, which the Student Success Act will provide funding to do, Oregon children will have the opportunity to be successful. It will provide investments that will make children like my daughter excited about her local school, instead of looking for other options.
After decades of disinvestment, the Student Success Act gives me hope.
It will make a difference for our children.
Kristi Dille is president-elect of the Oregon Parent Teacher Association
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