Student success at heart of new education act

Coastal Caucus discusses education plans, options at last week’s summit

Aug. 28, 2019 — As the new school year approaches, a major change to the manner in which Oregon school districts will be funded in 2020, and beyond, has been signed into law.

On Aug. 26, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown symbolically signed The Student Success Act, House Bill 3427, at Medford High School. The new law is expected to add $1 billion of revenue, each year, to the pool of money distributed by the Oregon Department of Education to school districts statewide for teaching K-12 students.

In her remarks at the signing Brown emphasized the broad-based goals of the act and her hope of its impact in the future.

“Giving our children the opportunity to thrive is at the core of the Student Success Act,” said Brown. “I want to make sure that every single student is empowered and able to overcome any challenge and dream big for themselves and their community. These targeted investments will ensure that all our kids can graduate high school with a plan for their future and the tools to compete in a global economy.” 

The Oregon Coastal Caucus Economic Summit (OCCES) highlighted the act during an education panel discussion at the conference, held Aug. 21 and 22 at the Florence Events Center and Three Rivers Casino Resort.

The importance of K-12 education, and the ways in which the Student Success Act will add to the well-being of future generations of Oregonians, was discussed in-depth at an OCCES workshop, “Education Governance: Creating a seamless education infrastructure that meets the diverse learning needs of Oregonians from birth through college and career.”

The education discussion was one of the first of the conference and one of the centerpiece presentations of the day.

Oregon Sen. Arnie Roblan was the Oregon Coastal Caucus member who moderated the panel, and his positive take on the new bill was reflected in the majority of comments made by panel members.

The discussion group consisted of education professionals from both the state and the private sector, who shared observations with those in attendance at the workshop.

The speakers on the panel shared data showing that many of the state’s students are not receiving the educational support needed to prepare them for the future demands of an ever-changing work force.

Colt Gill, the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Director of the Oregon Department of Education, was the lead speaker of the panel.

His assessment of the Student Success Act was positive, primarily because the bill was written after a number of education town meetings were held across the state to assess and recommend changes to the way Oregon educates its young people.

“They listened really carefully, and they designed a bill, The Student Success Act, that really comes through with what they heard across the state of Oregon, and also recognized that the solutions look different in different communities in our state,” Gill said. “They built in a lot of flexibility for local communities, school districts and other learning hubs to be able to implement them differently in different communities to meet the needs there.”

Gill said he is a product of the Oregon education system, having been a special education student when younger and later graduating from the University of Oregon. His experiences as a special education student and the wide array of parents, teachers and students he and his staff have met with while crafting the Student Success Act has informed his position as Oregon’s leading educator.

“The schools are not serving every community well, though, and where we are failing in many ways are serving our students of color, our students with disabilities, our bilingual students, our tribal communities and those students that are navigating poverty, homelessness or the foster care system,” Gill said.

Locally, the Siuslaw School District is struggling with the prospect of returning to the voters with another request for approval of a bond to upgrade and replace some of the district’s aging structures. The passage and implementation of the Student Success Act gives the district a clear sense of the available funding for the next fiscal year and beyond.

“The education panel was laying out the bigger picture for public education in Oregon for the future,” said Siuslaw School District Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak. “Much of the work will be done through expanding services in typical K-12 school districts to increase opportunities and ways to learn for all students in Oregon. In essence, many districts will take on supplemental work to support early and extended learned as well as diversifying opportunities during the school day for all.

“There is a sizable portion of the Student Success Act funds set aside for career and technical education, as well as college readiness, and then smaller portions of the act support school services and safety to enhance the learning environment. In many smaller communities, without ready access to county or state resources, local schools will serve many needs and roles that were once outside of education. Services that were cut are being restored and now housed under one roof.”

There are some aspects of the Student Success Act that have been controversial, primarily because the money collected for the act is coming from businesses. The act requires all Oregon businesses that have commercial activity above $1 million to pay a $250 and .057 percent tax on revenue.

Earlier this legislative session, Republicans were determined to squelch debate and opposed a vote by staging a coordinated walk-out during the legislative session dedicated to the act.

These walkouts were reported nationally, and the impasse was finally resolved when House and Senate Democrats, who have the majority in both bodies and therefore control the legislative agenda, agreed to defer action on gun control and vaccine requirements.

The act also reduces the personal income tax rates for three of the state’s lowest income brackets.

Another important component of the law is the establishment of a “Fund for Student Success.”

 The tax changes that fund the act will take effect in 2020 and pay for a series of initiatives to address the underserved in the student community, according to Gill.

“The act has 12 entirely new programs for students in Oregon and enhances and grows 16 others. It provides all kinds of new services in early learning and assistance for children and families,” he said. “The Student Investment Accounts will provide funds so school districts can increase instructional time and reduce class size or case-loads. It addresses student health and safety in a number of different ways, implementing a more well-rounded education.”

Locally, Grzeskowiak feels the Student Investment accounts will be an added benefit for students, although the changes in funding and program focus will take some time to make their way to the individual schools across the state.

 “The Student Success Act funds and any staffing or program changes will take a few years to phase in. The district started with some last year and this year, using the funds guaranteed at that time for budget planning. The rest of the act’s funds role out in January, so much of this year will be reviewing needs and planning,” Grzeskowiak said. “The needs planning began last year during the budget process. It will take some time to see the payoffs for these investments. The younger the grade level that funds are dedicated to typically means a longer time before results are seen, but targeting interventions and services for younger learners tends to be a more efficient use of resources. … When students are more prepared to learn and grow earlier in their education, they can make more use of the expanded opportunities at the middle and high school levels.”

According to Gill, there are some overriding long-term goals guiding the creation and implementation of the Student Success Act: equity, engagement and accountability.

“We are holding onto these three principals, or values, as we drive implementation to our districts and throughout our communities. We held onto these three values because we read them through the multiple pages of the surveys and we see these needs repeated over and over again,” he said.

 For more information about the Student Success Act, visit