By editorial board • 

State funding serves best when nurturing home-grown innovation

Tuesday’s ballot included three state measures targeting feel-good causes — veterans services (96), career ed (98) and outdoor ed (99). Odds seemed good of all three finding favor with voters, and they did.

However, in our experience with government mandates, the agencies charged with administering them tend to create a labyrinthine web of one-size-fits-all rules and requirements. Instead of fostering a bubbling up of creative, individually tailored programs from below, they serve to cultivate an imposition of stiflingly detailed direction from above, thereby eliminating any vestige of locally inspired innovation.

Taking career ed as an example. We are virtually bursting at the seams with promising local approaches. And they were undertaken without any state or federal mandate from on high, or any sort of special support or encouragement from Oregon’s educational bureaucracy.

In fact, external impetus has primarly come from private sector partners like Online NW, Ken Wright Cellars, Cascade Steel, Meggitt Polymers, Freelin-Wade, A-dec and the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. Public sector partners outside the school realm, like the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, have also contributed.

Among the projects coming readily to mind are McMinnville High’s Media Arts and Communications Academy, known as MACA, and Engineering and Aerospace Sciences Academy, known as EASA; Amity High’s student homebuilding program, designed to teach construction skills; the viticulture program and Carlton Career Academy developed in the Yamhill-Carlton school system; the robotics programs that have sprung up in middle school and high school settings around the county; Dayton’s imaginative Innovate program, which recently caught the eye of no less a luminary than U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden; and MEDP internship programs, serving to introduce students to McMinnville’s manufacturing base.

Could an infusion of new state money serve simply to give these home-grown programs a welcome boost, and foster more innovative ground-up efforts like them? Of course.

But will it? In our experience, odds are that state bureaucrats will design programs with lots of detailed do’s and don’ts, and oversee their implementation at every step.

While that may well be better than nothing, representing a distinct improvement in districts doing nothing meaningful to foster development of career skills in tandem with academic skills, it serves to crush innovation. It serves to foster uniform mediocrity.

It would delight us to be proven dead wrong. Here’s hoping for a light touch with any of the three measures passing into law.
 

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