Tough times mean leaders must find common ground.
Tough times can bring conflict and despair and failure. Or, tough times can compel people to strip away the petty concerns that don't matter, and to focus. To focus on working together, and solving problems.
Right now, Oregon's education system faces possibly its most challenging time ever. Challenging because school district budgets will be strained beyond anything we've seen before. But also challenging because of the maddeningly ingrained issues within our schools that continue to prevent all Oregon children from getting the education they need, and deserve.
We believe Oregonians expect their leaders to approach these tough times by focusing and working together. And we believe Oregon's leaders want to — and can — do that. That's why the four of us — two Republicans, two Democrats, two state senators, two state representatives — are inviting all Oregon legislators to a first-ever Oregon Education summit. The summit will be in Salem on one day — Dec. 7 — eight weeks before the 2011 legislative session begins.
Its purpose: to get legislators thinking about the significant challenges that face Oregon's schools. And to get them thinking about the common ground that exists among all of us, and the real solutions that, even in tough times, can bring about better schools for our children.
We've invited education experts from around the country, and from throughout Oregon, to join us. They are school superintendents, education researchers, principals who've led school turnaround efforts and people who run Head Start programs for preschoolers. We'll talk about early childhood education. We'll talk about ways that other states and school districts have been able to reform and improve the teaching and learning that happens within their schools, even with limited funds. We'll talk about the need for Oregon to adopt an overall vision for the future of its schools.
We'll also talk about the challenges of Oregon school funding.
And we'll talk about those funding challenges with two basic realities in mind. We must invest in our schools — the state of Oregon will ultimately fail if we don't. But today's financially tough times compel us to be certain we make only the smartest investments in our schools. We must focus our money on things that are proven to help kids learn, and that give them a chance to succeed in and out of school.
No taxpayer should be paying for school investments that don't work. And no Oregon child should have to wait for an economic recovery to learn well.
None of this will be easy. The 2011 legislative session will be the most difficult in years, as state leaders try to plug a 2011-2013 budget gap that right now is forecast at $3.5 billion.
And no one expects that at the end of the day on Dec. 7, we will have easy answers. But we believe this: as we work to balance the budget and improve the economy to get more Oregonians back to work, we must ensure that the schools that educate Oregon's children are on a solid foundation, and on a path to get better.
And all of us who call ourselves state leaders must commit to exploring ways to make that happen, by finding common ground and agreeing on real solutions. Dec. 7 can be the day we start. We'll see you there.