The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the associated economic recession, historic unemployment, and school closures, have made it clear that Oregon legislators must prioritize access to education during the upcoming 2021 legislative session.
All of OBI’s 1,600+ members rely on the effectiveness of our public education system, from pre-K through postsecondary. For our economy to recover fully, our students must have access to comprehensive distance learning (CDL), and need-based aid programs that support postsecondary students must be fully funded. New legislation must consider the supports Oregon students will need as many recover from academic deficits due to challenges with nontraditional learning platforms. The Legislature’s priority must be getting students back into classrooms safely.
In 2021, OBI’s education priorities will include:
Protect Post-Secondary Success for all Oregonians
Oregon employers depend on our state’s public education system to produce an educated workforce. We must recognize that the face of post-secondary education in Oregon has changed. If we want to protect opportunities for Oregon’s Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, the state should maintain thoughtful investments in our higher education institutions and need-based aid programs. Historically, during economic downturns, Oregon has made deep cuts to colleges, universities, and need-based aid programs. In 2020, when forced to balance the budget, the Legislature protected funding for the entire education continuum. State leaders should continue this approach and ensure that investments in students from Pre-K through postsecondary are shielded from disproportionate cuts that will exacerbate opportunity gaps and lead to a lifetime of debt students cannot afford to pay back.
OBI supports development of postsecondary options that provide credentialing or training for Oregonians to be prepared for the workforce, including removal of barriers to transferring credits earned in high school, especially through a CTE Program of Study, to four-year colleges and universities. Support legislation that helps align credit options resulting in reduced student debt.
Transparency and Accountability
Support the implementation of provisions in existing and new legislation that require transparency in spending across the education system, from the Oregon Department of Education to each school district. Every dollar should be accounted for and tied to a measurable outcome for Oregon’s students.
Prioritize Education Stability
As lawmakers seek to balance budgets in the face of inevitable shortfalls, stabilizing the entire education continuum must be a priority. The state’s budget writers should focus on maintaining critical programs, and serving students most adversely impacted by CDL, including low-income students and special learners. New programs should not be launched unless they are determined critical and their costs are covered by reductions in other portions of the overall budget. We must also encourage legislators to evaluate existing programs to determine effectiveness when making budget decisions. Cost savings and good governance goals can be achieved through rigorous evaluation of underperforming programs.
Equity and the Digital Divide
The current economic and health crisis has exacerbated educational inequities for low-income and rural students that do not have reliable access to CDL. OBI supports legislation that strengthens CDL programming, including public-private partnerships that facilitate the connection between marginalized students and their teachers, but also encourages a thoughtful shift from text-based education to effective technological platforms. OBI recognizes that minority communities continue to be underserved by our existing education system and supports programs to close the achievement gap affecting students across our state.
Student Success Act (SSA)
Support legislation that ensures appropriate oversight of Student Success Act (SSA) expenditures and holds the Department of Education and school districts accountable to stated goals and outcomes. Transparency measures should mirror other agency accountability measures. OBI is neutral on any amendments to the accountability measures (testing, etc.) as long as those amended measures track student and teacher progress accurately. When possible, encourage districts to utilize funds for increased access to science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) and career technical education (CTE) programs, as well as financial literacy education. The SSA also includes innovative accountability measures for districts, which OBI strongly supports. To the extent that projected funding for the SSA falls short of projections for the biennium due to the recession, OBI will support efforts to maintain existing programs but delay new ones until adequate economic recovery is achieved. Continuation of CTE/STEAM Investments: OBI supports continuation of CTE/STEAM policies that include but are not limited to, weighted funding, continued funding for revitalization grants, teacher licensure pathways, regional hubs, and course equivalency standards.
Policy Principles 2021
These policy principles will guide Oregon Business & Industry (OBI) as we represent our members and the broader Oregon business community throughout the 2021 legislative session.