Rep. Julie Parrish: Dream big – education for the coming decades

by Rep. Julie Parrish (R-Tualatin/West Linn)

Dream big.

I’ve been sharing that message with multiple stakeholders interested in education across the PreK-20 spectrum.  Dreaming big is something we should all be doing as we consider education for the coming decades. Our children need to be competitive not just at home, but in the global marketplace.  Dreaming big is going to require that we rethink the education model, the cost structure, and the delivery.  It means we need to engage parents, educators, and lawmakers about how we use our education dollars to develop productive, thoughtful, and innovative students.

On a pie chart, Oregon’s general fund budget is divided into three big slices – education, human services, and public safety. One little slice, about seven percent, comprises everything else, including dollars dedicated to economic development.  The education slice is about 38% of the pie and it’s shrinking every year, with more money being shifted to public safety and human services.  One could argue that those slices are growing because of a disinvestment in education.

The human services slice includes healthcare. No matter your position in the healthcare debate, the hard truth is even if we had a blank check and could provide maximum universal coverage we don’t have the infrastructure to meet the need.  Part of that infrastructure is human capital. A PhD nurse educator shared that even if everyone who wanted to be a nurse enrolled in nursing school today, the United States would still have a medical personnel crisis for the next ten years. The picture looks even more frightening as medical practitioners in all fields around the country creep closer to retirement age.

Dream big.

What if we reevaluated how Oregon slices up the pie?  What if we combined the two “E” slices – education and economic development – for the dual purpose of increasing educational outcomes and rekindling economic interest in Oregon?   In my world where smart shoppers leverage the resources they have to build wealth, this would be a BOGO – a buy one get one free deal.

So, what if…..?

What if OHSU could charter five high schools across Oregon – one each in Portland, La Grande, Bend, Medford, and at the coast?  What if they were given the opportunity to utilize professionals in the field to teach science and electives that would prepare students for college at OHSU?  What if the university president also served as the high schools’ superintendent, developing the appropriate curriculum for these students?

What if the university offered three tracks – one for students interested in being practitioners; one for research science; and one for pharmaceutical and medical technology?  What if savings realized by utilizing OHSU’s existing infrastructure could actually increase the school year and fund summer study opportunities?  And what if, at the end of four years in a medical prep high school, these students were academically ready to be accepted to OHSU?  With a solid medical foundation achieved in high school, they could graduate from college on time, saving tuition dollars in the process.

Dream bigger.

What if, with a highly developed pipeline of stellar medical students, OHSU, along with the partner cities of each campus, could leverage a competitive economic advantage for the state, drawing medical research and technology corporations to Oregon?  The availability of a workforce pipeline is often a consideration for a company to relocate or open a new facility.

So, what if…..?

This is a big dream for Oregon.  The concept of merging education and economic development is replicable throughout the state and across other industries.  A city in Eastern Oregon could be forward thinking about alternative energy; a community college in rural Southern Oregon could focus on reinvigorating the region’s forest industry; and Tualatin, right here in our district, could become the next powerhouse in film production.

Opening up who can charter, who can lead, who can teach, and ensuring funds follow the student would give us new tools in the toolbox. Keeping students engaged with learning, graduating on time, and opening career pathways would increase the success of our children. Bringing new and emerging companies to Oregon would be a win for everyone.

For this dream to become a reality, we have to rethink the current model of education.   I’ve introduced a series of bills that would give communities the tools to reshape Oregon as a leader in both educational outcomes and workforce development.  The bills are bound to be contentious, but we can no longer afford to think of the budget pie the way we have in the past. There is no extra slice coming for Oregon’s schools. It’s time we merge education and economic development and put Oregon on a path to innovation and success.

Dream big.