We're still not convinced Oregon voters made the right decision last November when they passed Ballot Measure 98, which forces the state to spend money on career and technical education programs, along with two other areas meant to improve the state's dismal graduation rate.
But we have to give the ballot measure at least some of the credit for driving a resurgence of interest across the state in career and technical education, areas that have had a hard time staying properly funded over the past decades.
(Our reservations about Measure 98 have nothing to do with the areas it funds, but rather that it did not come with a dedicated source of funding. This is a long-running issue in Oregon, where voters routinely approve costly initiatives without giving much thought to the question of how they will be bankrolled.)
In any event, it's nice to see career and technical education programs reclaim a share of the educational spotlight, as educators reacquaint themselves with the idea that some of their students may not be headed to a four-year institution of higher learning after graduation or, for that matter, may not be particularly motivated by the traditional path to college. As educators increasingly talk about the need to create many different paths to graduation, it becomes clear that one of those paths involves career and technical education — the sort of education that can lead to well-paying, high-demand jobs.
The latest example of the resurgence in the sorts of educational offerings that earlier generations used to call "wood shop" or "metal shop" came last week in Lebanon, where Superintendent Rob Hess pitched the idea of creating a countywide vocational charter school. Hess said he plans to bring what amounts to a "napkin sketch" of the idea to the school board's November meeting.
Of course, we reserve a final judgment on the idea until after Hess has a chance to flesh out the numerous details. And he told the board that the earliest such a school could be in place would be the fall of 2019.
But the idea is undeniably timely — and the money that Measure 98 will be funneling into school districts around the state could give Lebanon at least some of the financial means to pull it off.
"Everyone in the region is interested in providing pathways for kids different than the traditional four-year college pathway," Hess said. "In this community, there are many living-wage jobs and kids aren't being prepared for them."
Linn County was the birthplace of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce's Pipeline program, which aims to build connections between students and future jobs in local manufacturing industries. The Corvallis School District has since joined the lineup of schools participating in Pipeline.
And it was Linn County employers who helped get Pipeline off the ground when they started searching for new ways to find new workers for their manufacturing jobs — good jobs that were opening up as older workers began retiring.
So it makes sense for a Linn County school district to explore the notion of a charter school devoted to vocational education. And it makes sense as well to think about it as a countywide effort. It may not be an idea that would work everywhere; and, of course, we don't know yet if it will work in Linn County. But just as there are many paths to graduation, there are many paths to educational success. It makes sense to explore as many of them as possible.