There is nothing more important today for Oregon's future than our education system. I am committed to working aggressively for the federal government to be a full partner with our school districts, colleges and universities and the State of Oregon. This year I will also be advocating a 3-part strategy to protect and strengthen our schools here at the state level.
1. Stabilize Oregon's "roller coaster" revenue system by transforming the "kicker" (process that refunds money that exceeds 2% of the state's revenue projections to corporate and individual tax payers) into a "rainy day" trust fund.
The key to Oregonians approving of this change is to not merely turn the money over to the Legislature, but requiring that any use of the fund be subject to a vote of the people. This will guarantee the fund to address only serious financial difficulty and be much more acceptable to voters.
If this approach had been adopted 20 years ago instead of the "kicker," approximately $2 billion would have been available to protect education and vital government services, while the earnings on the trust fund would allow about $250 million for ongoing educational support this next year. I developed this idea in greater detail in an article published in The Oregonian. Click here to read more.
2. Use citizen commissions and voter approval to redesign critical elements of our education system.
Certain functions are very difficult to deal with in the legislative environment. Two examples that have eluded legislative action are school district boundaries and distribution formula for educational funding.
School districts boundaries should be "right-sized" for maximum efficiency while respecting community needs and geography. Oregon doesn't need 197 school districts and 30 education service districts as well. Florida with almost 5 times our population has 67 districts; Hawaii has 1.
I would suggest a streamlined educational delivery system developed by a Citizen Commission. Their process would include fine tuning of recommendations at public hearing forums around Oregon. Oregon voters would then be asked for their approval to reduce districts at least by half. If this approach works, I would want to apply it to reconstruct the school funding distribution system to pay for what we want our education system to provide.
3. Hold key legislative leaders accountable for producing results. It is not acceptable for legislators to assume responsibilities unless willing and able to deliver reasonable bi-partisan solutions that match their campaign promises.
For those key legislators who don't match their rhetoric with their performance, it would be relatively easy and inexpensive to collect the approximately 3,100 signatures necessary for a recall election. A recall election would provide an opportunity for these key legislators to be held accountable for their performance. This special recall election would not be obscured by partisan opposition or the static of dozens of other federal, state and local elections in the background. The vote would simply be on the legislator's performances, matched against their pre-election promises and the need for the legislature to deliver its constitutionally mandated support for education. Using the voter as a partner not an audience or an after thought can change the dynamic and accelerate progress on education, the single most important responsibility of the Oregon legislature.