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measure 98
Keith Edwards Retired International Representative, IBEW Ninth District
Published: 28 September 2016

I graduated from Jefferson High School in 1967. Although I didn’t know it at the time, an electronics course I took there helped in my choice that led me to what ended up being a lucrative, 44-year career as an electrician.

Because I loved math, I thought I would be an accountant. But a college path didn’t hold my interest, and I dropped out. It was by a stroke of luck that I heard about an electrician apprenticeship program. I signed up and, as they say, the rest is history.

But there’s a disconnect. I didn’t set out to join the trades, I only fell into it by chance.

What I’d love to see is a pipeline where young people get engaged with hands-on skills in high school that can enlighten them to a whole universe of possibilities, including the trades.

Oregonians will have an opportunity this fall that starts such a pipeline. By voting “yes” in November on Measure 98.

Measure 98 prioritizes our high schools by allocating a portion of new revenue for districts to spend in ways that we know improve out comes for high school students.

Measure 98 dollars are available for districts to spend on expanding and creating new vocational and career technical education (CTE) so that all high school students can take advantage of it. Right now, a lot depends on whether you live in the right zip code or win a lottery to a CTE-focused school. Measure 98 dollars also can be used for college prep and dropout prevention.

Although Portland high schools offer CTE, we have far too little classes available for all of our students who would like vocational education opportunities. Benson High School, the district’s CTE-focused high school, consistently has long waiting lists and other Portland high schools are just now beefing up CTE. These aspects contribute to our embarrassing graduation rate.

Furthermore, our graduates aren’t well prepared because they lack basic skills – three out of four who go directly to community college must take basic education and many can’t even use a tape measure.

CTE opens up new worlds to high school students. First, they learn that these vocations exist – and that they are starting points on paths to successful futures. Students explore and discover their potential. Many young people find out that they enjoy and are good at working in an applied learning environment and/or with their hands. The relevance of school is easy to see. This will also make high school a springboard to the real world of work toward career goals.

Consider these additional important facts:

  • Expecting 100 percent of high schoolers to find their way into the workforce via traditional college just isn’t realistic. It’s a major financial commitment. Fact is only 28% of students that enter high school in Oregon graduate from college over the next 10 years. Measure 98 is a good investment in our human capital.
  • In contrast, an apprentice can begin working at a middle-income wage job as soon as 10 months after entering a program. With so many baby boomer retirements and the amount of construction going on in our city, electricians other skilled tradespeople are some of Portland’s most in-demand workers. These jobs pay $35 an hour and more for workers who are fully trained.
  • Second, Portland’s graduation rate is 71 percent – lower than the statewide average of about 72 percent and much lower than nationwide average of about 84 percent. That means we have one of the worst graduation rates in the nation, and the figures are particularly shocking for those who are economically disadvantaged. While the national average for low-income students is 73 percent, in Oregon it’s 64 percent.
  • However, in Portland, when you look at the graduation rate for students who two or more CTE classes, jumps to 91 percent.

Measure 98 sets aside portions of new state revenues for three purposes: Expanding and creating CTE, expanding and creating college prep education, as well as aiding dropout prevention.

Doing nothing and letting them continue to fall through massive cracks in our education system, can’t continue to be an option. Please join me in supporting Measure 98.

From Constructing Hope website Keith is a board member.

Keith Edwards has served as a Shop Steward, Business Manager of IBEW Local 48. He has held Executive Board positions at the Oregon AFL-CIO; Northwest Oregon Labor Council; Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council; Construction Apprenticeship & Workforce Solutions, Inc.; and United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. He has organized volunteer licensed electricians to rewire our training facility.

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