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Chair's Blog

Strengthening public education in our region August 2013
By Gregg Kantor

With summer coming to an end, many of you are getting your children ready for the new school year. Public education, particularly K-12, in the Portland region has been at the forefront of conversations lately as many school districts have faced ongoing budget challenges; bond measures and operating levies have been on the ballot, and recent audits have shown that more needs to be done to boost high school graduation rates and student achievement. The Alliance has been involved in many of these discussions, endorsing education funding measures and advocating for ways to improve educational outcomes for all students.

Portland businesses, and the Alliance, have a long history of supporting education. In 1905, before any conclusive data was published on the connection between education and economic health, the Portland Chamber of Commerce (one of our predecessor organizations) began awarding student scholarships. From that point on, the business community has been a critical community partner, helping to fundraise and advocate for schools, supporting ballot measures, and steadfastly arguing in Salem that a sound education system is the most important building block in Oregon’s long-term economic well being.

In Salem, we have supported the education reform effort led by Governor John Kitzhaber, and stand behind efforts to ensure we can meet the ambitious 40-40-20 goal, which calls for having all Oregonians graduate from high school by 2025, with 40 percent of those graduates going on to complete two-years of post secondary work and another 40 percent obtaining a four-year degree.

Here in Portland, we helped establish the Cradle to Career Council (C2C), which I now co-chair. Managed by All Hands Raised, C2C looks at all the factors impacting student success, from the time they are infants all the way through their post-secondary work, and creates a venue where the community can work in concert to improve student outcomes. C2C is an exciting concept, the first of its kind in Oregon, and the Alliance is at the table.

Several of our Value of Jobs reports have shown the connection between education and the prospect for earning higher wages and incomes that can support families. We’ve shown how training in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can lead to better paying jobs, and how we have a deficit of graduates in business fields.

Additionally, with recent data showing that one out of every four Oregon children was living below the poverty line in 2011, we need to ensure that education investments are spent wisely, so that they actually make it to the classroom and are focused on efforts that impact student achievement.  The most effective anti-poverty program is a quality education that will lead to good jobs.

One specific education issue the Alliance is currently looking at is the ongoing contract negotiations between the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), the union representing district teachers, and Portland Public Schools (PPS). The Alliance’s Education Committee, led by Chris Denzin, Alliance board member and the vice president and general manager of CenturyLink, is working with PAT and PPS to understand the issues encompassed in the contract discussions with a goal of positioning the Alliance with partners to advocate for a contract that better serves the interests of students and the community.

Despite recent milestones in education reform, our community faces major education challenges, including unacceptably high drop-out rates and a growing gap in academic achievement between students of color and their white counterparts.  We believe the outcome of the contract negotiations will have an impact on Portland Public School’s ability to achieve improved educational outcomes for all students and address issues like the achievement gap and the drop-out rate, and ultimately help create a better economic future for all of the children of our community.

Thanks to your continued support, we are able to prioritize initiatives like education reform, working with our partners and the larger business community in advocating for change.
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