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3 Things To Know About Oregon's High School Funding Initiative

<p>Jefferson High School in Portland. An initiative petition that could appear on the Oregon fall ballot aims to boost the state's high school graduation rate.</p>

Jefferson High School in Portland. An initiative petition that could appear on the Oregon fall ballot aims to boost the state's high school graduation rate.

Initiative Petition 65 would direct about $800 annually to each Oregon high school student, aimed at addressing the state's poor graduation rate and gaps in workforce.

Supporters say IP 65 aims to better engage and prepare teenagers to finish high school and set them on a successful course after they get high school diplomas. The initiative has three priorities: expand college credit offerings, offer more career-technical opportunities, and implement dropout prevention strategies to keep high schoolers from falling through the cracks.

The measure's backers officially launched their campaign last week, submitting about 125,000 signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State. They need more than 88,000 validated for the initiative to appear as a ballot measure in the November election.

Here are three things to know about IP 65 at this stage of the campaign:

The Campaign Has A Bunch Of Cash

IP 65 supporters are giddy about receiving a $500,000 donation from Connie Balmer, a University of Oregon alumna, UO Board of Trustees member and the wife of Steve Balmer — former Microsoft executive and current owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers. The Balmer donation adds to an already healthy fundraising total for the "High School Success" initiative, which now exceeds $4.1 million. Previous donations largely came through a chief backer of the measure, the education advocacy group Stand For Children.

Some of the money helped collect signatures. Some of it is going toward ads. IP 65 doesn't have a well-funded opposition campaign to worry about, but some organizations — such as the Oregon Education Association — have raised concerns about the proposed measure. Latino Network, Coalition of Communities of Color and former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski are prominent champions of the initiative. 

IP 65 Has Been Visible Early

It isn't on the ballot yet, but IP 65 backers have already posted two video ads online, with plans to be on TV soon.

The campaign's new ads target two of the measure's big priorities: getting high school students successfully through high school and into college, and addressing looming shortcomings in Oregon's workforce.

The first ad features a female electrician decrying the woeful state of technical training in high schools and the need for skilled workers.

The second one features two Portland State University students who say their high schools prepared them for college, but that other students don't feel the same.

Learning Legalese

Understanding the language of the measure may require fluency in a certain kind of English: legal English.

Proponents of IP 65 objected to an earlier OPB story that suggested ongoing eligibility for funds would require ongoing expansions of college credit and career-technical programs for high school students. That was based on the words "establish and expand" in the language of the measure. The initiative's lawyer, Greg Chaimov, has since provided a to OPB outlining the campaign's legal interpretation.

The memo reads in part:

"The use of the conjunctive 'and' between 'establish' and 'expand' also does not mean that a school district must both establish and expand programs. A school district could establish a new program or expand an existing program, or both: 'and’ may be construed to mean ‘or,’ and ‘or’ construed to mean ‘and.'" 

The memo's suggestion that "and" can mean "or," and that "or" can mean "and," is drawn from Oregon's Bill Drafting Manual. Here is the complete sentence it comes from:

"If the failure to comply with any requirement imposes liability, the disjunctive 'or' should be used. In order to avoid an unreasonable or absurd result, 'and' may be construed to mean 'or,' and 'or' construed to mean 'and' where there is cogent proof of legislative error."

In other words, the drafting manual says it's OK to reinterpret "or" to mean "and," and "and" to mean "or," in extreme circumstances, where doing otherwise would lead to "an unreasonable or absurd result," or where there is "cogent proof of legislative error."

It's not clear if the possibility of continual expansion of high school programs would be considered "unreasonable," "absurd" or "proof of legislative error."

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.