Kitzhaber pushes for education overhaul

Kitzhaber pushes for education overhaul
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber speaks about his education agenda in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, April, 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday stepped up his push to overhaul Oregon's education system, stumping in the Legislature for his proposal to merge education bureaucracies under a unified board.

Flanked by education and business leaders, Kitzhaber told reporters Tuesday morning that his proposal would redefine an education system for the first time in decades.

"We need to be investing in a system for the 21st century, not a system that was developed in the past," Kitzhaber said.

Kitzhaber has long complained that education oversight is fragmented into independent "silos" that are pursuing their own interests and fighting with each other for money. His solution is to centralize oversight for pre-kindergarten, K-12 schools and higher education under an agency he's dubbed the Education Investment Board.

Kitzhaber's proposal is detailed in an amendment to SB 909, which creates the Education Investment Board as a 13-member panel comprised of the governor and 12 people of his choosing, subject to Senate confirmation.

The board would replace the current Board of Education and Board of Higher Education and propose budgets to the Legislature for schools, universities and other education programs.

A board-appointed education czar would oversee the whole process. Kitzhaber has said in the past that the elected superintendent of public instruction should instead be appointed, but this bill stops short of doing that.

The bill would require the education board to create a computer system that tracks spending on education programs and try to measure their results.

It also unifies an array of health and education programs for children who haven't started high school and creates a staff position to oversee them with the goal of ensuring students are ready to learn when they get to school.

Education officials say children exposed to poverty, unstable family backgrounds, substance abuse and relatives with criminal records are especially vulnerable to falling behind early in their schooling, and it's difficult for children to catch up once they lag their peers. About 40 percent of the 45,000 children born annually in Oregon meet these criteria.