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Home > Education > Public Education in Oregon

Public Education in Oregon

Office Covered Bridge. (Photo courtesy Pat Gaylord)

Office Covered Bridge. (Photo courtesy Pat Gaylord)

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In the 2010–11 school year, Oregon had 197 public school districts, which administered a total of 1,296 public schools. These schools enrolled a total of 561,328 K–12 students. 28,109 (full time equivalent) teachers worked in Oregon’s public schools for a student to teacher ratio of 20.3 to 1 (2010 national average: 16 to 1). Student demographics show a minority enrollment of 33.7 percent (2010 national average: 47.6 percent).


Students who qualified for free and reduced-price lunch made up 50.7 percent of all students in 2010–2011 (2010–11 national average: 48 percent). Special education students made up 14.2 percent of the total in 2010–2011 (2010–11 national average: 13 percent). In 2009–10, there were 61,625 students in English language learning programs. This number is 11 percent of the total student population (2009–10 national average: 9.7 percent).


The state’s budget for K–12 education in fiscal year 2009 was $6.1 billion of which the federal government provided $671 million (revenues). Source: National figures are from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.


Education in Oregon
Never has education been more important to the lives and fortunes of Oregonians and our communities. Yet, Oregon is falling behind. In most other states – and countries – the younger generation of adults is more educated than their elders. In Oregon, adults aged 25–34 are less educated than their parents’ generation, with fewer earning certificates or degrees beyond high school. Almost a third of Oregon students are failing to graduate with a regular diploma after four or even five years in high school.

The state — through legislation passed in 2011 and 2012 — has embarked on the most significant education reform in 20 years, reshaping governance, priorities and budgeting all with a strong focus on investing in better educational outcomes for Oregon’s students.

Ambitious Goals
The 2011 Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 253, which established the most aggressive high school and college completion goals of any state in the country: By 2025, we must ensure that 40 percent of adult Oregonians have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, that 40 percent have earned an associate’s degree or post-secondary credential, and that the remaining 20 percent or less have earned a high school diploma or its equivalent. Those targets form Oregon’s “40/40/20” goal.


2011-2013 Legislatively Adopted School Funding


2011-2013 Legislatively Adopted School Funding

Source: Legislative Fiscal Office

Key Strategies
Oregon’s education reform plan is founded on three key strategies:


1. Creating a coordinated public education system, from preschool through college and career readiness, to enable all Oregon students to learn at their best pace and achieve their full potential. At the state level, this will require better integration of education agencies’ capacities and smarter use of resources to encourage and support successful teaching and learning across the education continuum.


2. Focusing state investment on achieving student outcomes. The Oregon Education Investment Board has defined core educational outcomes that matter for students, their families, and the state at key stages in a student’s learning. For example: Are entering kindergarten students ready for school? Are they reading at grade level by third grade? How many students graduate from high school, and how many earn college credits before graduation? Do they go on to college and further training? How many earn their college degrees?


Under 2012's Senate Bill 1581, the Oregon Education Investment Board is entering into achievement compacts with every K–12 school district, education service district, community college, the university system and public universities, and Oregon Health Sciences University. These two-way partnership agreements challenge educators across Oregon to set targets on key student outcomes and encourage broad collaboration to adopt transformational practices, policies and budgets (at the state and local level) to help Oregon students achieve the educational outcomes.


3. Build statewide support systems. The state will continue to set standards, provide guidance, and conduct assessments, coordinated along the education pathway. To enhance these efforts, 2011’s Senate Bill 909 commits the state to build a longitudinal data system—tracking important data on student progress and returns on statewide investments from preschool through college and into careers. These data will help guide investment decisions and spotlight programs that are working or failing. Beyond data systems, the state will expand on the successful local model of professional
learning communities to increase support for collaboration among schools and teachers.


Education Funding
Oregon has struggled with funding public education since Measure 5 passed in 1990. The property tax limitations enacted under Measure 5 and the later Measures 47 and 50 shifted the primary burden of paying for K–12 education from local property tax payers to the state General Fund. That shift led the Legislature in 1991 to establish a school funding equalization formula. That funding formula, largely based on student enrollment numbers and student demographics, determines how much money each school district will get from the State School Fund to fill the gap between the district’s local revenue and its equalization target under the formula.


In the 1990s, as Measure 5 phased in, more of the state General Fund went to pay for education. However, in recent years, funding for education – K–12 and post-secondary – has been squeezed, both as the result of general budget cuts during the recession and also as the costs of corrections and social services grow.
In 1999, legislation passed allowing local school districts’ voters to approve additional “local option” property tax levies for up to five years of operational funding to supplement the State School Fund appropriation.


Starting in 2000, voters have passed these temporary school funding levies in 26 different school districts – ranging in size from tiny Camas Valley, with 124 students, to Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest at 47,000 students. This has helped those districts maintain their programs, but also has limited the ability of the state to equalize funding among districts.


2010-2011 Education Funding By Source


2010-2011 Education Funding By Source

Source: Oregon Department of Education

Overall, under the state’s current revenue system and the economic recession, education at all levels is widely recognized to be underfunded:


• Early learning: The state has expanded the Oregon pre-kindergarten program to serve thousands more children, complementing the federal Head Start program. Even so, those programs reach only a small share of the young children who need support to be ready for kindergarten.


• K–12 schools: State support for K–12 schools has fluctuated over the years, but in general has not kept pace with inflation. As school districts face increased costs – particularly for their employees’ health care and retirement – and real reductions in actual dollars available, most Oregon districts have resorted to cost-cutting measures. Those have included strategies such as increasing class sizes, cutting administrative and teaching staff, pay freezes, consolidating small schools and cutting days from the school calendar.


• Post-secondary: Oregon’s community colleges and public universities have faced dwindling state funding. While they have cut costs, limited employee compensation, and served record numbers of students in recent years, students have taken on more and more of the share of college costs through increased tuition as a result of the state’s funding challenges. For example, in 1989–90, student tuition and fees covered 29 percent of the costs of instruction in Oregon’s public universities, and the state paid 62 percent of the costs, with the remaining from other funds. Twenty years later, in 2009–10, those numbers had essentially reversed, with tuition and fees paying close to 63 percent of the costs and state support covering less than a third (29 percent).


Early Childhood Education
2011 Senate Bill 909 created the Early Learning Council, appointed by the Governor, to coordinate, streamline and improve early childhood services. It replaces more than two dozen programs in six different state agencies providing early childhood services.


In 2012, the Legislature passed House Bill 4165, to:


• Streamline administration, policy, and planning of the state’s early childhood services,
• Promote collaboration, competition, and local creativity based on meaningful outcomes for children,
• Preserve Head Start as well as early intervention/early childhood education for special needs students,
• Improve screening and assessment so that children receive support in order to thrive in kindergarten,
• Provide incentives for child care quality and a rating system to give parents useful information when choosing care.


A new statewide kindergarten readiness assessment will help answer critical questions: When Oregon children enter kindergarten, are they ready to learn? How can the state direct its investment in early childhood services – whether prekindergarten, health care, child care or early intervention – to help more at-risk children start school with the skills and support they need to succeed? The Oregon Early Learning Council will select one assessment to test in up to 15 pilot schools across Oregon in the fall of 2012. In 2013, every kindergarten classroom will use the assessment.


The federal government has recognized Oregon’s work in early learning, inviting Oregon to join four other states in applying for a second round of its Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, to be awarded in the fall of 2012.


K–12 Schools
At the state level, the State Board of Education sets policy for K–12 schools. The Department of Education implements educational policies and helps districts comply with the appropriate state and federal regulations.


Significant reforms underway include:

• Rigorous state standards. The State Board of Education in 2010 adopted the Common Core State Standards — rigorous, national learning expectations aligned with international standards. These common standards will prepare Oregon students to compete, not just here, but nationally and internationally as well. Oregon is one of more than 45 states to adopt these standards and will phase them into classroom instruction over several years. Oregon is in the forefront in the development of national assessments designed to test students on these new standards.


2011-2013 General Fund and Lottery Funds

Total: $14.8 Billion | Total Education: $7.4 Billion


2011-2013 General Fund and Lottery Funds

Source: Legislative Fiscal Office

• Higher expectations for achievement. The State Board of Education has adopted more rigorous math achievement standards (in effect in 2010–11), and, reading and science achievement standards (in effect 2011–12). These higher state achievement standards will better prepare students to meet Oregon’s graduation requirements and will help pave the way for the higher expectations of the Common Core.


• New diploma requirements. Oregon schools continue to work toward full implementation of the Oregon Diploma and the Essential Skills requirements that will ensure all graduates leave high school college- and work-ready. The graduates of 2012 were the first required to demonstrate proficiency in reading. The Oregon Department of Education helps students and schools prepare, by providing tools including the Oregon K–12 Literacy Framework and the Assessment of Essential Skills Tool Kit. Graduates in future years will be asked to demonstrate additional skills: writing in 2013 and math in 2014.


• Full-day kindergarten. Oregon’s state funding formula only pays for a half-day of kindergarten for students. But many districts have decided to offer full-day kindergarten, particularly for disadvantaged students. They generally pay for these programs by shifting funding from other grades, using federal Title I anti-poverty dollars, or by charging parents a fee to cover half the day. 2011 Senate Bill 248 determined that the state should cover the costs of full-day kindergarten starting in 2015. That will bring greater opportunity for Oregon’s youngest students and put an end to the inequity the patchwork of funding solutions has brought.


• Federal flexibility in accountability system. Oregon plans to apply for a waiver from certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA)/No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The ESEA Flexibility Waiver offers an opportunity to obtain relief from the rigid Adequate Yearly Progress targets and one-size-fits-all sanctions that NCLB mandated. Oregon’s waiver proposal includes measures that are consistent with (though more detailed than) the K–12 achievement compacts, and a state system of support and interventions aimed at improving student achievement.


The waiver also provides an opportunity to align the state’s system of accountability. The 2011 Legislature appointed a Joint Task Force on Accountable Schools (House Bill 2289) to examine Oregon’s school and district report cards, the state’s primary tool to communicate student achievement and other information to students, families, and the broader school community. The task force and governor’s office are coordinating efforts to ensure that the achievement compacts, accountability system, and state report cards are consistent, aligned, and mutually reinforcing.


State Board of Education
The State Board of Education, with seven members appointed to four-year terms by the governor, is charged with establishing policy for the administration and operation of the public elementary and secondary schools and the public community colleges in Oregon.


Board members are Artemio Paz, Jr., Chair (term ends 2013); Samuel Henry, Vice Chair (2016); Angela Bowen (2016); Gerald Hamilton (2016); Serilda Summers-McGee (2015) and Duncan Wyse (2012). One position is vacant.


The State Board of Education adopted new graduation requirements that will require students to take more rigorous levels of mathematics and science. Additionally, all students must demonstrate proficiency in the Essential Skills beginning with reading in 2012, writing in 2013 and math in 2014. Students are given multiple opportunities and assessment options to demonstrate Essential Skills proficiency. Assessment options include:


The state will monitor the numbers of students meeting the Essential Skills requirements through local assessments. Accommodations will be provided to students with disabilities.

Students may also earn credit toward graduation on the basis of demonstrated proficiency rather than on attendance only. Proficiency-based credit must be aligned to rigorous standards for student achievement.

Average Oregon SAT Results Compared Nationally


Writing Oregon National        
2010 499 492        
2009 499 493        
2008 502 494        
2007 502 494        
2006 503 497        
Critical Reading Oregon National .......... Mathematics Oregon National
2011 520 497   2011 521 514
2010 523 501   2010 524 516
2009 523 501   2009 525 515
2008 523 502   2008 527 515
2007 522 502   2007 529 515
2006 523 503   2006 529 518
2005 526 508   2005 528 520
2004 527 508   2004 528 518
2003 526 507   2003 527 519
2002 524 504   2002 527 516
2001 526 506   2001 526 514
2000 527 505   2000 527 514
1999 523 505   1999 525 511
1998 528 505   1998 528 512
1997 525 505   1997 524 511
1996 523 505   1996 521 508


18,461 graduating seniors (53%) took the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) in Oregon in 2011. Source: Oregon Department of Education



The ODE Web site is Much information about public education in Oregon may be found there.


The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES),, a program of the U.S. Department of Education, collects data from states and provides analytical tools for users. NCES allows users to view data in graphic representation as well and provides the means to assess how well other states are doing in the same areas.


SchoolMatters,, a service of Standard and Poor’s, relies on much the same data collected by NCES and again provides the ability to compare districts within a state or different states. Both sites should be used with caution, since data is notoriously difficult to compare accurately. However, they do provide the means to get a sense of how Oregon school children and Oregon school districts are performing and how Oregon compares with other states.