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Eugene: Invest in Better Education Outcomes

School Funding, School Leadership | 06/20/2017

Joy Marshall
Lane County Director

The Eugene 4J School Board is working on its 2017-18 plans right now, and there are a number of opportunities to improve education for our kids. As you know, schools across Oregon confront a host of challenges that can hold students back. We have one of the shortest school years in the nation, our classrooms are overcrowded, and our graduation rates are the third worst of all fifty states. Our students don’t have the academic, behavioral, or college/career track support that is vital to their success in the classroom and in the real world.

Fortunately, Eugene 4J stands to receive roughly $8 million more than expected from state lawmakers for the 2017-19 biennium. While it’s reasonable for the District to use some of this money to build up its reserves and make good on existing commitments, it also makes sense to prioritize these additional funds towards addressing our larger problems.

Support for Vulnerable Students

The school board has already signaled its intent to prioritize additional classroom support for children with emotional and behavioral challenges. This is vital to providing a stable and nurturing environment for our kids to learn in and better working conditions for teachers, and it could mean the difference between walking in a cap and gown or giving up on school in frustration.

Lower Class Sizes

There are good reasons why 4J should prioritize targeted class size reduction. Many of our classrooms are so crowded that students can’t get their questions answered or are forced to sit on a radiator because there simply aren’t enough chairs. Kids are going unnoticed in plain sight and have precious little interaction with their teacher because the teacher is stretched so thin. When high school writing teachers have over 150 kids in over the course of the day, it’s simply impossible to give enough time to correcting papers and guiding students.

The District asked Eugene residents for their priorities in the 4J Vision 2020 process, and 77% of respondents said lowering class size was their top funding priority. Given how strongly our community feels about this, it only makes sense that the Board prioritize much of the additional $8 million to reducing class size.

More Class Time

A good teacher is vital to learning, and so is time with that teacher. Unfortunately, Eugene students don’t get enough time in the classroom – many schools are as much as two weeks below the state’s standards (which are already lower than the national average). Rather than increase the number of hours for next year, the school board used a loophole that allows them to count some hours of recess, parent-teacher conferences, and teacher professional development as instruction time. While this might bring our schools back in compliance, it doesn’t change the fact that our students didn’t actually learn during those “exemption” hours. And while statements by members of the Board indicate this move is intended as a one-time fix for this school year, we need a guarantee that next year will be different.

Bethel, Springfield, Portland, Bend, and nine schools within Eugene 4J are all offering the state’s minimum instructional hours to students. Why can’t Eugene 4J? At minimum, we hope district officials make an ironclad decision that 4J students get a full school day with no exemptions by the 2018-19 academic year.

We’re within reach of some great changes for education in Eugene right now. Stand for Children is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for our kids, so look forward to hearing more from us about this very soon. And we know these priorities are top-of-the-list for you too, so make your voice heard. Contact the school board at board@4j.lane.edu to act on these recommendations so students in Eugene have the top-notch education they deserve.

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