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Portland Public Schools puts emphasis on closing the achievement gap

School Funding | 04/29/2013

Kim Melton
Metro Regional Director

These days, it’s a rare occasion to look at school district budgets without cringing. Our statewide budget crisis has left classrooms with more students, fewer resources and overtaxed staff. And many of our children who are struggling most – students from low income backgrounds, students of color and those learning English -- aren’t receiving the services and support they need to succeed in school.   

It was very significant, then, to see that Superintendent Carole Smith’s proposed 2013-14 budget included critical investments that will help the district live up to its commitment and promise to narrow Portland’s achievement gap and make sure all students have the opportunity to thrive.  

Here are five quick examples and budget highlights:

  • Early Learning & Elementary Grades: This budget maintains full day kindergarten and class sizes of 25 and expands the kindergarten transition program to all focus and priority schools. The district is also increasing its investments in K-3 literacy curriculum.
  • Targeted Support for Underrepresented Students: PPS is proposing to target 4 percent of its classroom staff specifically to schools serving high numbers of children learning English, children living in poverty and those from diverse backgrounds. This represents an important opportunity for schools to deploy staff in ways that will help address acute student needs.  
  • Student Discipline: Superintendent Smith recommended increased investment in restorative justice strategies to decrease discipline incidents and racial disparities in disciplinary practices. We want to see PPS continue expanding these efforts across the district and ensure teachers have the support they need in classrooms.
  • Maintaining Investments at Roosevelt: Though Roosevelt High School is at the end of their federal grant, the district is maintaining the investments in the North Portland school, which has already begun to show positive academic results.
  • High School LEP Program: The district is investing about $600,000 to launch a district-wide program for high school students with very limited proficiency in English – a high school academy developed in conjunction with the Immigrant Refugee Community Organization.

More work to do on high schools

Since the proposed budget was released, there’s been growing discussion and debate about high school staffing. PPS high school students do not have the essential access they deserve to full class schedules and a robust curriculum. Last week, the district released 11 additional full time positions to high schools. This ensures that freshmen and sophomores can have seven-class schedules and upperclassmen are guaranteed at least 6 courses. This is a positive step but the district will need to do more to ensure high school students have meaningful opportunities to learn throughout the school day.  

Keep an eye on the revenue

Portland Public Schools based their budget on the Co-Chairs’ budget proposal, which hasn’t been finalized. So, we don’t know exactly how much money schools will receive next year. Additionally, the budget assumes Portland will receive about $4.5 million in proceeds from the Arts Tax, an initiative that’s facing a legal challenge and recent reports show the tax has only collected a fraction of expected revenue so far. We encourage the district to be cautious in its investments and compensation commitments to ensure these education initiatives are sustainable and implemented well.

As the Oregon metro director, Kim Melton leads community organizing and advocacy efforts in and around Portland. She's passionate about community partnerships that will close Portland's burgeoning achievement gap through coalition work and family engagement models.

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