Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Jason Atkinson's 100-day education plan

One of the criticisms leveled against Jason Atkinson in his run for governor is that his campaign lacks specifics. That his "signature" issue -- passing the education budget within 100 days -- is one missing the grandeur and statesmanship of big initiatives from days gone by: the Bottle Bill, open beaches, the land-use law (SB100), etc.

At first glance, it might seem the critics are right. What good will it do to pass the education budget in the first three months? We need to talk about funding, not worry about when it happens.

But look at little deeper, and consider the ramifications of such an idea.

In its current model, the legislature crafts the state budget by deciding how much money will go to Health and Human Services, the Justice Department, the Bureau of Labor and Industries, Higher Education, etc. etc. etc. All the while, in the backs of their minds, legislators know they have to set aside a pretty big chunk for K-12 Education (roughly half the overall budget). Based on the governor's proposal, they know roughly what the K-12 budget will be, but they try to ignore it like the proverbial 10-ton elephant in the room.

As Atkinson says in his book:
In the meantime, the legislature is passing less important budgets (i.e. spending money) while the education self-interests are pleading for delay. Their hope is that by running out the clock they can break legislators who don't agree with the numbers they have already proposed for the budget.
So it is, as Atkinson correctly points out, a game. The two parties use the extended time without a K-12 budget to bludgeon those with whom they disagree, perhaps in person (though the public isn't privy to those discussions) and certainly in the press. Democrats are spending money like drunken sailors and plan to raise every tax known to man, and a few that haven't yet been invented. Republicans want to put 87 kids in each classroom and cut everything that doesn't use the Bible as its sole curriculum.

The governor proposes a budget of, say, $5 billion; the Oregon Education Association says it needs at least, say, $6 billion. So, when the education budget is finalized eight months later at, say, $5.5 billion, the governor is not critized for setting the bar so low -- the Republicans are critized for not meeting the unrealistic and unreasonable high bar set by the unions that endorsed the governor.

So what happens if education is the first budget to pass? Will the gamesmanship go away? Not likely. But what will happen is multi-fold:
  1. The special interests will have less time to sweet-talk their friends and strong-arm their opponents;
  2. The legislators will be forced to talk only about education -- how much of a priority is it? How much money should go to education? What kinds of expectations should accompany those dollars? -- instead of discussing everything else first and slipping education into the end-of-session cracks;
  3. The public will have a much clearer picture about which legislators really hold education as a priority, because the legislators can't hide behind eight months of rhetoric about the budget as a whole.
Suddenly, legislators -- and the public -- will have the opportunity to hold the debate we all want, without the other distractions of government: how much money does public K-12 education in Oregon need to be effective? And the budget will be built with education as the cornerstone, as the priority, instead of treating it as an afterthought and dragging the state's half-million public school children and their families along for the ride.

(By the way, Atkinson calls for this to occur via constitutional initiative, so that the executive and legislative branches can't wiggle out from the mandate. Lacking that constitutional mandate, it assumes that Governor Atkinson would wield a quick and merciless veto pen over any budget that passed prior to education.)

Yes, on its face, the Atkinson 100-day plan sounds like something that will do little good. But it will dramatically change the way the state talks about money, its schools and its future. And it will dramatically change the rhetoric that comes out of Salem because legislators will be on the hook to show just what they mean when they say they hold education as a priority.

If you want to read more of Jason's book, you can go here and read some excerpts of the education chapter, or go to Jason's website and ask for a free copy of the book. But do it soon. Ballots will be in our hands next week.

2 Comments:

  • At 4/28/2006 4:15 PM, Blogger Capitol 3 said…

    Hello this is a Awesome Book,some people don't have computers but some do in our church and were directing them to the website.we gave a friend at church the Book he read it and now he wants 10 of the 15 reasons to give out to family and friends We also gave out a dvd of the book to another close friend a church
    Al vossler and his wife have a big family of 4 kids and each child is married w kids so that will be alot of votes

     
  • At 4/28/2006 4:16 PM, Blogger Capitol 3 said…

    Al vossler and his family live in mcminnville oregon

     

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