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Editorials from around Oregon

January 30, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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Albany Democrat-Herald, Jan. 30, on much work remaining on graduation rates:

The Oregon Department of Education last week released high school graduation rates for the class of 2018, and there was good news in the numbers: The on-time graduation rate for the state rose to nearly 79 percent.

The state’s graduation rate has been moving upward over the last five years, and the same is true for most of the school districts in the mid-valley.

But let’s keep the champagne corks in their bottles for the time being: Frankly, a 79 percent graduation rate doesn’t seem like something worth celebrating. It still means that better than 1 out of every 5 students does not graduate on time from an Oregon high school. And that 79 percent rate doesn’t seem likely to help Oregon move up the charts in terms of its national standing: The state’s 2017 graduation rate ranked 49th in the nation — an astonishing result for a state that typically talks a good game about educating its students but doesn’t always follow through on that talk.

We don’t talk much these days about the state’s aspirational 40-40-20 educational goal, so you can be excused if you need a primer. Here’s the important thing to remember today: The goal called for every Oregon adult to have a high school diploma or its equivalent by the year 2025. (The other numbers in the 40-40-20 indicated the percentage of Oregonians who should hold postsecondary degrees by 2025.)

No one believes we’ll be able to hit that 100 percent mark, that point at which every adult Oregonian holds that high school diploma. But we need to act as if we do, and that’s because we understand that a high school diploma is the key to a better life. Without that diploma, people struggle. If you’re stuck in a cycle of poverty, that diploma represents the first step toward breaking that cycle.

So we were interested to see numbers crunched by The Oregonian newspaper, which analyzed last week’s graduation data, not just to find which schools in the state had the highest rates, but to take it a step further: The newspaper wanted to see which schools were most effective at graduating their low-income students.

Of course, simply getting high school students to graduate in four years is a challenging proposition, even in school districts that enjoy the advantage of being in relatively prosperous communities.

But it adds an extra level of difficulty when you consider the challenges facing students from low-income households: These are students who simply don’t have the advantages available to students from families with more economic means.

One school in the mid-valley topped The Oregonian’s list of schools that did the best job of working through those challenges: West Albany High School graduated an astonishing 97 percent of its low-income students. (West Albany’s overall graduation rate for 2018 also was 97 percent, good enough for third place in the state.)

Year in and year out, West Albany consistently leads the mid-valley in graduation rates. The school must be doing something right, and the secret to its success isn’t really a secret: For years, under the leadership of Principal Susie Orsborn, the school has made it a priority to identify struggling students as early as possible and to get them the resources they need to get back on track.

Sounds simple. But in an era of tight school budgets, it’s harder to pull off than you might think, and West Albany has been forced to make some hard decisions: For example, it allows larger advanced classes so that it can allocate additional resources to struggling students.

Legislators and Gov. Kate Brown say they’re intent on finding more money for the state’s schools. And there’s no doubt that more money could help — if it’s spent the right way. West Albany appears to have found one right way.

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The Bend Bulletin, Jan. 29, on state needing to ensure clean fuels program works:

We have a rule for government programs: They should work. And not just work for work’s sake. They should make progress toward a deserving goal.

That’s why Oregon legislators should pass Senate Bill 348. It directs that the state do a cost-benefit analysis of its low carbon fuels program.

The program’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gases. That might help with global warming. Does the state’s program produce a benefit worth the cost? Of course, Oregon lawmakers would never let a program like this continue without checking, right?

The program is designed so fuel importers gradually lower the carbon intensity of their fuels. They can do that by blending in lower carbon fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. But if they can’t meet the toughening standards that way, they can buy credits from public transit districts, biofuel producers and other credit generators that sign up. The extra costs of fuel get passed along to consumers in what they pay at the pump.

The state claims the program is a resounding success. “Over the first two years of the program, approximately 1.7 million tonnes of GHG were reduced at a cost to comply less than a third of a penny per gallon,” the DEQ reported earlier this month.

But as Oregonians have learned from the state’s wasteful Business Energy Tax Credit Program, disastrous launch of the Oregon health care marketplace, terrible performance in caring for foster children and more, it’s always a good idea to dig beneath the surface of what the state says in happening.

The Bulletin is already in a legal battle to get public records that would explain details about how the clean fuels credit market is working. Chevron and REG, an Iowa biofuels producer, are fighting to keep those records hidden. Hmm, there couldn’t possibly be something they don’t want Oregonians to know?

Passage of SB 348 won’t answer all the needed questions about the state’s low carbon fuels program. It’s a good start.

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The Oregonian/OregonLive, Jan. 25, on reversing Oregon’s backward slide on immunizations:

The news of a measles outbreak in Southwest Washington started with the announcement of two children who had contracted measles.

It grew quickly, as outbreaks of infectious disease tend to do. To 14, 16, 19, 25 and now 30 confirmed cases as of Friday morning — nearly all of which involved unvaccinated children, according to the Clark County Public Health department. Another nine suspected measles cases are under investigation. And officials believe a Seattle-area man who came down with measles may have picked it up while visiting Southwest Washington.

On Friday night, health officials announced that the outbreak had reached Oregon with a confirmed case of measles in Multnomah County. It’s not a surprise, unfortunately. Even with decades of research showing the safety, efficacy and necessity of vaccines, Oregon parents are refusing to have their children immunized for vaccine-preventable diseases in record high numbers, weakening the line of defense that mass immunity provides. And similar to Clark County, many of those who are unvaccinated are clustered in schools or communities where a single measles case could multiply in short order.

The Clark County outbreak, like past outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in Oregon and elsewhere, drives home the point that forgoing immunizations isn’t just a matter of personal choice. The long list of places where people may have been exposed to the virus — churches, schools, stores, high school basketball games, Portland International Airport — speaks to the broad reach of a family’s choice not to immunize a child. Refusing to vaccinate children puts not only them at risk but also the health of medically fragile individuals or those too young to be immunized. Oregonians and legislators must start treating our declining immunization rate as the serious threat to public health that it is and stem this backward slide.

Oregon requires that students be immunized for 11 vaccine-preventable diseases unless they have a medical reason not to be. But the state also allows exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons provided parents either speak with a doctor or watch a video about the benefits of immunization. While few people sought such exemptions 20 years ago, that number has steadily grown, with 7.5 percent of kindergartners now claiming a nonmedical exemption for at least one vaccination, the highest rate in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control website.

It’s mindboggling that Oregonians who recognize the authority of science when it comes to climate change would mistrust the decades of research and immunization of hundreds of millions of people worldwide that attest to the safety of this vaccine. A study from the 1990s that claimed an association between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has long been debunked and retracted, and its principal author, Andrew Wakefield, discredited.

Yet at the same time, the hesitance isn’t so surprising at a time when people eye institutions — governmental, medical and others — with suspicion. People dissect mandates for hidden agendas. Institutional failures, whether by error or intention, give people reason to doubt. And the Internet has made accessing information, even inaccurate information, easier than ever before. It’s no wonder we have a problem.

The World Health Organization’s declaration of vaccine hesitance as one of the top 10 global health threats should help spur physicians, public health officials and legislators to step up their game. For example, doctors should aim to have a direct and thorough conversation with parents considering opting their child out of vaccinations rather than letting parents watch — or claim to watch — an online video. Pediatricians share the same goal as parents of protecting their children, said Dawn Nolt, a pediatric infectious disease expert at OHSU. That’s a powerful bond that, if cultivated with time and respect for parents’ concerns, can help relieve fears about vaccines.

Public health officials also should look to increase targeted educational outreach to communities with low immunization rates. While health officials smartly focus their limited resources on providing vaccinations, they have a compelling story to tell that’s not being shared. Combatting measles has actually been “a great public health victory,” as Dr. Paul Cieslak, the Oregon Health Authority’s immunizations medical director, puts it, with very few incidents of a potentially-fatal disease that in pre-vaccine days hit everyone. It’s well worth the expense. Clark County has already spent more than $100,000 in the measles outbreak tracking down people, interviewing them about places they visited and people they’ve seen and monitoring potential new cases.

Parents, too, can play a crucial role in persuading other parents. One Portland-based nonprofit, Boost Oregon, aims to corral the power of peer advocacy to educate others on the safety and importance of vaccinations. The organization, founded in 2015 by attorney Nadine Gartner, holds workshops for parents and trains parent volunteers to share the facts on immunization. The group also counsels medical professionals on how to engage parents in a respectful, informative discussion that directly answers their questions and dispels myths.

Still, Oregon can’t afford to wait for public sentiment to catch up to where we used to be. Lawmakers should revive an effort first pushed by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward in 2015, to eliminate nonmedical exemptions. At that time, Steiner Hayward, a doctor, was concerned by the Disneyland measles outbreak that sickened 147 people in late 2014 and early 2015. But fierce blowback from anti-vaccination groups shut down the effort and so far, no one is taking on the cause this year.

As difficult as it may be, it’s not impossible. The Disneyland outbreak that spurred Steiner Hayward to action also emboldened California legislators to eliminate their state’s nonmedical exemption becoming the third state to permit only medically-necessary exemptions to immunization requirements. Oregon shouldn’t wait for its own Disneyland outbreak to become the fourth.

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