Not everybody is enthusiastic about that model or the outcome of education laws. As Gail Rasmussen, president of the Oregon Education Association, the teachers union, points out, most of the new reforms focus on streamlining and reorganizing education hierarchies instead of resolving the sector’s most glaring problem: lack of financing. “That was the biggest disappointment,” Rasmussen says. “We moved a lot of deck chairs around, but the bottom line is how do we adequately fund those services.”
During the recent legislative session, “it was quite clear there wasn’t going to be any more money,” responds Wyse. “We had to focus on getting greater value for our dollar.”
But if business scored a big win, it is not resting on its laurels. The next step, business leaders say, is actually implementing the education redesign, then tackling the negative, long-term public financing trends such as skyrocketing health care and prison costs that are sapping money from K-12 and higher education.
Ask Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association, why business has a stake in education reform, and he’ll outline a downward trajectory in which low student achievement and graduation rates in the state lead to “more importation of talent, more outsourcing of jobs and less economic activity.”
Concerns about economic growth fueled business interest, but Kitzhaber’s leadership was the spark that lit the fire, Deckert and others emphasize. “In the past, many business groups have been supportive of education reform,” says Ron Saxton, executive vice president of Jeld-Wen and a member of Kitzhaber’s Education Investment team. “But when the governor said this was his priority, those groups became more enthusiastic.”