While Measure 97, the tax on big corporations to help bolster Oregon’s struggling schools, seniors and health care has gotten the most press, Paige Richardson of the Outdoor School for All campaign wants to draw people’s attention to another education bill on the November ballot: Measure 99, which would create a separate fund, financed through Oregon Lottery Economic Development Fund and administered by Oregon State University (OSU), to provide Outdoor School programs statewide.
Richardson says sending 12-year-olds, fifth or sixth graders, to Outdoor School allows them to not just experience the outdoors but immerses them in Oregon’s natural resources and provides hands-on science for a week out in the field.
The program has been around for 60 years, Richardson says, with 85 percent of Oregon students attending at its peak, but cuts to education funding has meant the program has been shortened or eliminated in school districts across the state.
According to Kerry Delf of 4J, only a few Eugene schools have the program, including Adams Elementary, Corridor Elementary, Edgewood Elementary, Family School and Twin Oaks Elementary. In Springfield, Thurston Middle School lists Outdoor School as a 2016 program.
Richardson says the goal of Measure 99 is for all students across Oregon to be able to participate, regardless of abilities or family income. She says both the younger students as well as high school student leaders benefit from the program as they learn to be both more collaborative and more self-confident.
State Sen. Betsy Johnson, one of the measure’s opponents, writes in a May editorial in The Oregonian, “Our love of good intentions is turning Oregonians into pickpockets,” and complaining the measure would take $22 million a year in lottery funds from state economic development.
Richardson counters that for only $400 a student’s performance in science and math improves and students start to see themselves as scientists and teachers.
And when Gov. Kate Brown endorsed Measure 99, she addressed the economic development issue, writing that developing a bond with the natural environment is an “important part of growing up in Oregon and is fundamental to instilling the values of conservation in our children,” and adding that, “While I support the measure, I will preserve funding for important economic development programs currently funded by the lottery.”
Richardson points to a study out of Northeastern, featured on a recent episode of PBS’s Frontline, that found when compared to the typical high school graduate, a dropout will end up costing taxpayers an average of $292,000 over a lifetime.
“Failure to graduate starts early,” Richardson says. “Four-hundred dollars a year invested in every 12-year-old is worth it.”