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Measure 98 funds for school dropout prevention cut in half

By KRISTENA HANSEN

Of The Associated Press

SALEM — Oregon high school students may get a bit more than half of the roughly $300 million that voters in November mandated be spent on career-technical education, college-prep and other dropout-prevention programs over the next two school years.

A $170 million-allocation to Measure 98 moved out of committee Monday and now heads for a vote in the Senate as part of the 2017-19 budget for the Oregon Department of Education, which will disperse the funds to schools. That's a 42 percent-cut from the amount that voters approved 2-to-1 last fall as a way to improve Oregon's graduation rates that recently slipped to third-worst in the nation as per-student spending leaped into the top 20.

Measure 98 is among several programs and services being trimmed down this week as lawmakers rush to close the upcoming budget deficit by July 10 without millions of dollars in new tax revenue that Democrats had hoped to raise from businesses. State funding for the K-12 public school system is, conversely, going up 11 percent in the next biennium, $8.2 billion total, largely to cover rising costs in teachers’ health care, retirement and automatic salary and cost-of-living adjustments.

Education Department officials told The Associated Press that 39 charter schools and 173 of the state's 197 public school districts have formally asked to participate in Measure 98 programs as of Monday.

Toya Fick, executive director Stand for Children Oregon, the local chapter of the national nonprofit that sponsored Measure 98, says the funding allocation is “real progress” but there's still room for improvement.

“We still have a long way to go to deliver on the high standards Oregonians overwhelmingly supported last November,” Fick said in an email. “Our kids deserve the full benefit of Measure 98, and the voters deserve to have their demands acted upon.”

Another proposal, House Bill 2246, outlines the method for dispersing the funds and also expands the pool of potential recipients to include the Oregon School for the Deaf, Youth Corrections Education Program and Juvenile Detention Education Program. HB 2246 now heads to the House for its first major vote.

The major focus of the measure is courses such as computer programming or auto-shop mechanics, which offer career alternatives to students who've decided the traditional four-year college path isn't for them.

Recent state data show that Oregon students who took at least one such course in high school had an 85 percent graduation rate — slightly above the national average — versus the statewide 74 percent average.

The Oregon Education Association, the state's teachers union, made a final attempt last week to convince lawmakers to strip Measure 98's funding requirement and essentially turn it into an optional grant fund. One of OEA's complaints is the measure's strict monitoring of program spending and educators designed to track student improvements, which lobbyist Laurie Wimmer says “imposes top-down micromanagement of school districts for monitoring, intervention and dictation of practice by ODE will be costly and further erode local control.”

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