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Seeking Big K-12 Plans From Governors for 2015? Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber Delivers

Fresh off a successful camapaign for re-election, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has presented a wide-ranging package of education initiatives that he plans to incorporate in the upcoming two-year budget. These include proposals focusing on on early education, reading, and English-language learners. 

Provided on Nov. 10 to the Oregon Education Investment Board, a group that oversees the state's K-12 and higher education systems, Kitzhaber's proposals clock in at roughly $950 million if you add them all up, although some of those dollars wouldn't directly impact public schools in the state. In addition to descriptions of the programs and their aims, the governor's initiatives also identify the number of students an individual initiative is intended to serve; the "universe" of children and students that are the general targets of each initiative; as well as the projected outcome of the initiative.

Here are some highlights:

• The single-biggest initiative in Kitzhaber's plan by dollar amount is for "3rd Grade Reading," which gets $400 million in his budget plan. But in fact a good chunk of that plan deals with early education. Specifically, the governor wants $220 million to implement state-supported and statewide all-day kindergarten. The remaining $180 million would be designated for increasing hiring of literacy experts in districts; the funding of new partnerships between districts and community organizations to support reading that would extend to home visitation and summer programs; and the addition of positions for literacy coaches at the state education department.

The projected outcome, or target if you prefer, would be for 95 percent of 3rd graders reading on grade level by 2019.

• The early years get additional emphasis in Kitzhaber's "Quality Early Childcare" proposal, which would receive $85 million. Of that tab, $55 million would go to expand access to early-childcare programs to children not already being served by the state's Employment Related Day Care program. 

That would translate, according to Kitzhaber, to an additional 1,672 children each year who are "kindergarten ready," among other benefits. 

As it happens, the state Education Investment Board just held a summit on early education that focused on research trends and the best way to strengthen ties between public schools and other organizations. "The unprecedented summit was designed to ensure that from an early age, students are being prepared to reach two critical outcomes: ready for kindergarten and reading at grade level by third grade," the state's chief education officer, Nancy Golden (who leads the state investment board), said in a statement

• Then there's a $90 million proposal from Kitzhaber to increase state education aid to English-language learners. Specifically, the "weight" of funding for ELL students would increase from 1.5 times the standard per-pupil spending rate to 1.6 times that rate. However, that increase in funding would only last from four to seven years.

The target is a 20-percent increase in the share of ELL students in the 9th grade who are on track to graduate. The program is designed to benefit 58,000 ELL students in the state.

Other initiatives in the plan include increasing state higher-education scholarships ($137.2 million), new support for low-performing districts ($5.4 million), and expanding collaboration between school districts ($17 million).

Betsy Hammond at The Oregonian reported that Kitzhaber acknowledged that it's probably unrealistic to expect all of his initiatives to be funded in the next two-year budget. But the plan appears to have resolved at least some frustrations among investment board members about which initiatives would have the greatest impact and what they would cost. 

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