SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / January 2008 / Superintendent's Message
A State School System or a State System of Schools?
Oregon has historically had a state system of schools. Schools were locally governed, largely locally funded with relatively little state regulation or accountability. Measure 5 in 1991 changed the equation and gave the state more control of schools. Measure 5 allowed the state to claim local property revenues, add state revenue collected via income tax and reapportion those dollars on a per pupil basis. Measure 5 allowed the state legislature to play a more significant role in regulation and accountability. The legislature became the equivalent of a state school board. Measure 5 moved us to more like a state school system. Local boards no longer had to sell school patrons on the importance of adequate school funding. School revenue was determined by the state legislature. Local boards bargained contracts with employees, hired and fired superintendents and managed school facilities and the oversight of district functions.
Oregon increasingly has moved toward a State School System that is funded, governed, regulated and overseen by the state legislature rather than local boards. With the No Child Left Behind version of the Elementary, Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other federal laws, the President and law-makers in Washington DC have assumed an even more regulatory role. The result of state and federal influence in governing and school accountability has increased student academic requirements and testing while decreasing elective classes in the arts and technical education. Students have fewer electives, more required classes and more required testing. Schools have more state scrutiny, more testing requirements, more accountability and less local control.
Do Oregonians want a state system of schools or a state school system? This is a question of local control versus state control. The pendulum has swung to the state school system side; however there are growing voices as to the academic value of the arts and other electives. Career and technical education advocates tout numbers that show higher academic achievement for students involved in vocational curriculum. There has always been strong local support for athletic and music programs.
In years past, schools had nurses and child development specialists who served students and families with physical, emotional and mental health supports. With the pressure on schools to increase student test scores while funding has not kept up with inflation, we have seen a decrease in these health support services. Given that up to 25% of today’s students do not have health care insurance, having basic nursing and developmental services at the school makes for good state public health care policy.
Perhaps we need to reevaluate the roles and responsibilities of state and local funding sources. I believe it is the state’s role to equitably and adequately support core education and health services for students. Those core education services could be defined by the content areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science and social science where there are state mandates and assessments. If state mandates are added to local schools then state funds should accompany these requirements. Federal resources should be fully funded to cover national mandates of No Child Left Behind and IDEA acts.
Local property taxes could be used to support academic classes and co-curricular activities that the local patrons, parents, business community and boards value. I believe local taxpayers see the value and would support choir, drama, instrumental music and athletics programs and fund them with local resources. This would allow local boards to manage local property tax revenues for programs that are consistent with community needs.
Do we want a state school system or a state system of schools? A policy discussion of state and local responsibilities might lead to adequate and stable resources for education. Federal and state resources would be used for mandated programs and local resources would support community programs. The above approach would be a blend of a state school system for state mandated areas and state system of local schools for elective and co-curricular programs.