Governor creates team to help him remake public schools.
PORTLAND - Gov. John Kitzhaber on Friday took the biggest step to date in his quest to unify state education policy and spending and to redesign the way toddlers, schoolchildren and adults are educated.
That step took the form of an executive order creating an Oregon Education Investment Team and charging it with creating a plan to "comprehensively transform Oregon's approach to education."
Oregon's public education system, from elementary school through college, is stuck in a quagmire, with costs rising faster than revenues. There's scant agreement on solutions.
Kitzhaber said he wants the task force to serve as an idea generator for ways to cut costs and unify the "silos" that comprise Oregon's decades-old systems for providing for early childhood services, operating public schools, and delivering community college and university educations.
In a legislative session that's on track to essentially fund education at the current level - at a time when keeping up with rising costs and classroom demands would cost more than $1 billion above what Kitzhaber has proposed for 2011-13 - the 12-member Education Investment Team also will serve as a sounding board and, potentially, a lightning rod, for education stakeholders who don't like the governor's approach.
In the executive order Kitzhaber issued at Portland State University's Helen Gordon Child Development Center, the governor laid out the rationale for his creation of the 12-member task force he will lead. The team will be quickly appointed and hold public meetings before making recommendations by May 31 to:
Begin designing a new model for early childhood and family programs.
Seek cost savings and efficiencies in public schools to offset a drop in state appropriations for public schools from 2011-12 to 2012-13.
Come up with what he called a "unified performance-based 0-20 education investment budget model" to replace the current system, which bases state appropriations largely on the number of students enrolled at a school, college or university.
"We have the opportunity today to fundamentally change our course in the state of Oregon," said Kitzhaber, describing his goals to "provide an educational system for the people of our state that provides better outcome for students and more resources for educators and a more prosperous future for the state of Oregon."
The team Kitzhaber created will be temporary. He is pushing a bill to create a permanent team, which would replace the separate state Board of Education and Board of Higher Education. He also supports legislation to create a single Oregon Education Investment Fund, which the new board would oversee. He also backs legislation making the state schools superintendent appointed, rather than elected by voters. That job is currently held by Eugene resident Susan Castillo.
Education lobbyist Ozzie Rose, who represents education service districts, said Kitzhaber's approach is necessary to put education on the right track. But he said the challenge is not expressing general aspirations, such as the governor's goals of ensuring all children are ready to learn when they get to school and are learning to read in kindergarten - achievements that would drive down future costs for remedial education.
The challenge is actually accomplishing those changes, he said.
"Each segment fights for its share. We'll see how the politics works with all of this," he said.
None of the key organizations, which represent educators, administrators, school boards and college and university stakeholders, are criticizing the governor's direction openly, and many have cheered him on.
The governor himself acknowledged that his push will ruffle feathers among education stakeholders.
"I would venture to say they're all really nervous," he said. "They need a place to sit down and work out their concerns."