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Citizen's View: Measure will create stronger schools and a better future for all

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My grandfathers started first grade in Oregon nearly 100 years ago. Earl went to public school in Ashland, Ed near Milton-Freewater. The education my grandfathers received in Oregon’s public schools helped them build successful careers. Earl created a construction business, and Ed worked as an electrician and ran a family farm.

My parents, my brother and I all graduated from Oregon public schools, and this fall my own kids will attend one of our local high schools. Our family knows first-hand that a good public education helps people adapt and succeed. We also know that Oregon schools need better funding.

As the parents of two high school students, my husband and I worry about the condition of Oregon’s education system. Funding shortfalls have resulted in many large classes, too little instructional time and low graduation rates. Nearly 3,400 teachers were laid off in the last decade. Today, we have 2,000 fewer teachers than in the 2007-08 school year, even though student enrollment has gone up. Most states have a minimum 180 days a year of instructional time, but Oregon schools averaged only 167 days in 2012-13. It’s no wonder Oregon has the fourth-lowest graduation rate in the United States.

Oregon’s schools need stable, adequate funding so we can prepare our students for a successful future. We need class sizes that allow for personalized attention, instructional time on par with the national average and course offerings like shop class, art and computer programming that appeal to the diverse interests and aptitudes of our students.

We need to strengthen career-technical education to equip students for good jobs. As an attorney who has worked with manufacturing companies, I have talked to business owners who seek employees skilled in machining, shop math, drafting and other technical areas. These employers speak with reverence about Portland’s Benson Tech and the graduates it trains. By investing in technical education, we help more students — including more young women — qualify for these family-wage jobs. We also meet the needs of our businesses.

This November, Oregonians have the chance to support crucial improvements for our public schools. We will vote on Measure 97, a proposal to increase taxes on large corporations, many of which are based outside of our state, that have Oregon sales exceeding $25 million each year. The proceeds from this tax will help fund our K-12 schools, pre-K programs, senior services and health care. I support this measure.

Oregon ranks toward the bottom in the country in corporate taxes. Corporate profits have risen dramatically since 2000, while an average working Oregon family’s annual take-home pay has dropped, when adjusted for inflation. At the same time, Oregon students are not getting the education they need. We need to fix this problem, and passing Measure 97 — which was previously known as Initiative Petition 28 — is the best opportunity we’ve had to do it in over a decade.

My grandfathers worked hard to adapt to Oregon’s changing economy and provide for their families. But they didn’t succeed only with hard work — the public educations they received in Oregon schools helped them adapt and thrive throughout lives that spanned the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam and all sorts of tragedies and triumphs. Public schools in Oregon allowed Earl and Ed to seize opportunities and invest strategically to create a better future.

Our kids deserve that same opportunity, and it is now our turn to create a better Oregon for everyone. This fall, we have the opportunity to pass Measure 97. It will enable Oregon to prepare our kids for success and meet other important community needs. I think Earl and Ed would agree that we need to seize this opportunity. I hope you will, too.

Ann Lininger represents House District 38 in the Oregon Legislature. A lawyer, she lives with her husband and two children in Lake Oswego.