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Education | local | News | Elections 2016

Breaking Down The Oregon Initiative To Raise Slumping Graduation Rates

There are a few initiative petitions making the rounds these days aimed at public schools.

The one getting the most attention is a ballot measure formerly known as IP 28 – a tax increase of historic proportions that’s already drawing focused opposition from business groups, but is seen as a “game changer” among public school advocates.

But there’s another initiative likely to appear on the November ballot that doesn’t raise taxes. Instead, it’s focused on how to spend revenue once it comes in.

Here are three things to know about the “High School Success” initiative, known as IP 65.

1)  IP 65 is aimed at high schools, primarily at keeping kids from dropping out.

Visit the IP 65 web site, or talk to its backers, and they’ll bring up Oregon’s low graduation rate. It was worst in the nation a few years ago, and hasn’t improved a whole lot since then. IP 65 would direct about $280 million from the state’s K-12 spending to high schools.

It requires that every Oregon high school — including charter schools, any public school with ninth through 12th graders — invest in specific dropout prevention strategies.

Those include:

  • Reducing chronic absenteeism. Oregon has historically struggled to keep high schoolers from missing more than 10 percent of the school year;
  • Establishing systems to track student progress in high school, if they don’t have them already;
  • Identifying students at greatest risk of not graduating, potentially starting with eighth grade;
  • Providing supports like summer school, before and after school programs, counseling, etc.;
  • Exposing students to career and college opportunities after high school.

2)  IP 65 also wants to better connect students to what happens after high school.

The part of IP 65 that’s required for all high schools is the “dropout prevention” materials above. The college and career prep elements aren’t as mandatory.

The measure requires that school districts, not individual high schools, make college and career-technical programs accessible to all high school students. And, the initiative calls on districts to continually expand those programs, if they want to keep getting money under IP 65.

Stand for Children’s executive director, Toya Fick, said the reason the college and career aspects weren’t required at every high school was to allow flexibility, especially for smaller, rural high schools that may not have capacity to do everything on their own. Fick said if several districts wanted to pool resources to offer a career-technical program at one high school, that could fill the requirement — so long as the program was accessible to all high school students across the participating districts. Similarly, not every high school would be required to provide college credit, or advanced placement (AP) courses, so long as courses were available to all high schoolers in the participating districts.

The “Eastern Promise” program in eastern Oregon is mentioned by backers of IP 65 as an example of a multi-district arrangement that offers greater opportunities.

Updated section:

When this article first posted, OPB wrote: Note that on college credit and career-technical education, the initiative says “establish and expand.” Therefore, it’s not enough for Oregon school districts to have a program, or do one big expansion. The initiative requires continual expansion for districts to keep getting the money.

OPB has since heard back from one of the initiative’s authors, Tim Nesbitt, who offered a different interpretation of the initiative’s “establish and expand” language:

The “establish and expand” language…  does not mean “both” are required. This is consistent with the use of “and” in legislative drafting. Districts can choose to expand existing programs or establish new ones or both.

The same language does not require continual expansions in future budget periods… In future budget periods, what is established or expanded in 2017-19 can be continued with IP 65 funds thereafter.

3)  IP 65 carries a price tag. It doesn’t raise taxes, but supporters say it’s not an “unfunded mandate.”

IP 65 aims for the Legislature to spend $800 per high school student per year on the dropout prevention, college credit and career-technical training policy priorities. That’s equal to about $280 million every two years.

There is no new source of revenue for that. And IP 65 doesn’t operate under the assumption that the ballot measure formally known as IP 28 – the big corporate tax – is going to pass.

Supporters maintain IP 65 is not an “unfunded mandate” because it relies on “additional” rather than “existing” money. That’s explicit for the first biennium: If there is not an additional $1.5 billion above the last biennium, then funding should be reduced. For example, if the increase is $1 billion, then it should be funded at two-thirds full funding: about $528 per student.

There’s not the same trigger for future years. The initiative calls for funding to remain steady or increase.

Those revenue increases from year-to-year are the same funds used to keep up with rising personnel costs and the state’s other spending priorities. In the end, IP 65 would compete for the “increase” in funds with other K-12 priorities, higher education, state police and the many other draws on Oregon’s tax revenue.

The measure has the support of groups like Latino Network, Coalition of Communities of Color and the parent-advocacy group Stand for Children, as well as individuals including former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Among its skeptics, though not necessarily opponents, is the Oregon Education Association. Oregon’s statewide teachers union said IP 65 is a “one size fits all” initiative that could interfere with school districts’ ability to focus on their communities’ top priorities. 

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