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An Oregon Coalition Tackles School Policy

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Oregon's education community is closely watching a coalition of local foundations that hopes to present a school improvement plan to state legislators by March.

Officially launched just a few months ago, the Portland-based Chalkboard Project will spend up to $2 million working toward that goal.

So far, it has held 17 focus groups, planned town hall meetings, met with more than 100 groups, and commissioned reports on education quality, accountability, and funding.

"We're trying to provide some hope to Oregon," said Sue Hildick, the president of the Chalkboard Project. "We're a new player at the table, one with a lot of credibility, and [one] willing to invest a lot of resources to find what Oregonians want from their schools."

The coalition's first public initiative was the release this summer of a statewide poll on what Oregonians think about their schools.

The Portland research firm of Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall polled 1,800 citizens by telephone in the spring. Among the findings: Fifty-two percent believe that public schools don't have adequate funding. But another 40 percent said schools weren't spending their dollars wisely.

Two-thirds said the state needed to improve school quality, accountability, and finance. Fewer than half the respondents felt that the state's public schools were doing an "OK" job, while 36 percent said "somewhat good" and 21 percent said "somewhat bad."

"This gives us a good launching point on where people are on key education issues, " Ms. Hildick said.

Cynthia Guyer, the executive director of the Portland School Foundation, a nonprofit school advocacy group, applauds the Chalkboard Project's vision.

It remains unclear to her, though, exactly how the coalition's hard work will pay off where it counts, which is in the legislature.

"The research, the polling, the focus groups . It's a great starting point," she said. "But the endgame question in Oregon is: What is the political strategy and where is the political leadership going to come from to finally adopt a policy around school quality and financing the state's schools?"

The powerful groups behind the project are the Portland-based Collins Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon Community Foundation, the Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation, and the JELD-WEN Foundation in Klamath Falls.

"This is exactly the kind of private-sector process I hoped would evolve to address the challenges facing public education in Oregon," Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Vol. 24, Issue 02, Page 29

Published in Print: September 8, 2004, as New Player

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