By Ann Lininger
Earlier this month Oregon legislators held a town hall in Portland so people could share their priorities for Oregon's 2017-19 budget. Almost everyone who testified urged the Legislature to raise taxes so Oregon can better fund our schools and crucial services like healthcare.
"Oregon is on a fast track to become Appalachia West," said one speaker, lamenting the lack of adequate funding for our K-12 schools.
We are missing the opportunity to prepare our kids and communities for the strongest possible future. As the parent of school-aged kids, I see that up close in our education system. When my son graduates from high school this year, he will have completed 12 years of instruction in our public schools without ever having the chance to take computer programming at a school he attended. In order to equip Adam to study computer science when he gets to college, our family must find and pay for learning opportunities outside of school. That approach won't work for some families, however, hurting the ability of many young people to pursue well-paying jobs in a thriving sector.
As chair of the House Committee on Economic Development and Trade, I meet with business leaders regularly. I have talked to executives who want to hire Oregonians to fill computer coding job openings they have. They report that too few Oregon high school graduates are qualified for those positions. We need to prepare our students for the kind of opportunities that exist in our economy and position them to continue study in relevant fields beyond high school.
In the last election cycle, a bipartisan coalition of voters passed several ballot measures to add educational opportunities for students and to prioritize other needs. Measure 98 directs legislators to increase funding for technical education and college readiness courses and to support drop-out prevention efforts. Measure 99 directs the Legislature to fund outdoor school. Measure 96 calls for increased funding to support veterans. We also face crucial needs to improve Oregon's transportation system and to ensure access to healthcare for all Oregonians.
There is no question that Oregon should invest in these priorities. There is also no question that we must find significant new revenue in order to do it adequately. Those who believe we can meet these needs exclusively through better use of existing resources ignore Oregon's budget realities. Certainly, we must streamline service delivery and prioritize spending, but efficiencies and prioritization alone won't meet these needs.
Continuing the status quo will not prepare Oregonians for the kind of future we all want. The shortcomings of our approach to technical education make that clear. At a recent school board meeting, I learned of a young person from our community who, after completing high school with no computer programming foundation, attempted to begin studying computer science in college. He was so ill-prepared for the work he had to drop the course.
It's time to find a path forward to adequately fund educational opportunities and services that matter deeply to Oregonians. This legislative session we have the opportunity to join forces as Republicans, Democrats, Independents, parents, business owners, union members, nonprofit workers, and retirees to pass tax legislation to better fund education, healthcare access, transportation and other priorities. It will be hard, but it is possible. With help - and with positive pressure - from people in our communities, we can get it done.
Ann Lininger is an attorney and represents House District 38, which includes Lake Oswego and Southwest Portland, in the Oregon Legislature.
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