Improving Our Education System

Over the years I have recruited new physicians to practice in Oregon. The question I’m most often asked, isn’t so much about medicine, instead people ask about our public schools. Bringing jobs to Oregon requires improving literacy, graduation rates, and student success. It is a key priority I will address as Governor, because our current leadership has failed families and left employers at a loss for words when they’re asked, “What about the schools?”

We must have confidence the money taxpayers send the Oregon Department of Revenue achieves the results our children deserve.

Sadly, this has not been the case. We were told things would improve after the recession, but even with more money they didn’t move much. Whether Oregon is in or out of a recession, when it comes to our public schools, the year is too short, the graduation rate is too low –the lowest in the country – the teacher: student ratio is too high, and the arts are sacrificed too often as to maintain a mediocre status quo.

This is not to say our public school teachers, parents, and students who graduate, go onto college or a vocation don’t accomplish great things in their community. It simply means that compared to other states we are not hitting the mark of excellence in public education consistently.

ICYMI: Watch "Kate Brown's House of Cards"

As you hit the stores for back to school shopping and purchase supplies for the cash strapped classroom, spread the word to your friends, families, and neighbors and other parents that I want to improve the chances for every child to succeed. How? By seeing that more of your hard earned tax dollars get to the classroom. Not as Kate Brown wants; not by raising taxes and increasing the cost of living for middle-income households by more than $600 a year, but by changing the status quo.

That won’t be easy. It’s no surprise that part of the rising cost of public education has been the employer PERS rates that each school district must pay. Solutions will need to both address the real needs of our kids in the classroom while also honoring the educators who have given their time and talent to our children over the years.

Some of the ideas I’ve heard on the campaign trail to promote policy that move more into the classroom and honor the work of our educators include:
• Reduce the interest rates PERS used to calculate member benefits under the money match formula.
• Require some or all of the 6% contributions that PERS employees are supposed to make to PERS pay for pension costs (many public employers now pick up this cost for their workers). This could cut the PERS deficit by up to $1.2 billion each biennium. That’s money that could be spent on more teachers, longer school years, and other vital services. The 6% contribution currently goes into a separate, employee-owned, supplementary account. This does not pay for PERS pension costs, and this makes Oregon one of the few states where PERS-covered employees make no contribution toward their pensions.
• Create a 401K-type retirement for all new public employees.
• Consider a total compensation approach as used by Linn County.
• Set the money match annuity to the current market rate.
• Prohibit employees from artificially inflating their salary at the end of their careers to get a better return.
• Looking at reducing the taxpayer contribution for higher wage earning government employees.

What’s telling – what’s depressing for anyone who cares about adequate funding and education reform for Oregon schools – is that Kate Brown has refused to even address the looming PERS crisis that will decimate budgets for schools and other critical public services. Newspapers across Oregon write about the problem, and still Brown says nothing because it might offend her allies in the leadership of Oregon’s government employee unions. That’s not the leadership our students, parents and taxpayers deserve.

If you have additional ideas, please send them my way. This is a conversation that can’t wait until the end of another school year.