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Outdoor School 04

A team of Philomath Middle School students used radio direction finding equiptment to find and recover a radio tagged stuffed animal on Friday at a forestry expo.

The debate over Ballot Measure 99, which would use lottery money dedicated to economic development to fund Outdoor School across Oregon, isn't really about Outdoor School.

No one disputes the value of Outdoor School, which gets Oregon students out of the classroom for a dose of science-based education while staying for a few nights at a camp.

Instead, this debate, like so many others in Oregon, is about funding and priorities: Is this particular chunk of lottery money better spent on economic development or on Outdoor School?

We think the measure, despite its good intentions, would end up shortchanging the state's badly needed economic development efforts. We also are leery about claims from measure proponents that expanding Outdoor School opportunities would result in widespread economic development for rural Oregon.

The Democrat-Herald recommends a "no" vote on Measure 99.

Outdoor School in Oregon dates back to 1957, when Irene Hollenbeck, of the Southern Oregon University School of Education, organized a one-week camp to the Dead Indian Soda Springs for fifth- and sixth-grade students and teachers from Medford’s Westside Elementary School. (This background comes courtesy of an extensive evaluation of Measure 99 by the City Club of Portland; the online copy of this editorial includes a copy of the City Club report.)

Hollenbeck’s program was successful enough that a pilot Outdoor School project was launched in the Crook County School District. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Oregon students have participated in a week-long Outdoor School program. But the program never has had consistent state funding.

Enter Measure 99, which had its origins with parent groups in Portland that had to raise money so that their local schools could offer Outdoor School programs. Currently, Oregon does not fund a statewide Outdoor School program, but Oregon State University helps school districts by awarding grants, as funding allows, for such efforts. (If the measure passes, OSU would administer the statewide program, so at least the university would enjoy some benefit.)

The particular pot of money that Measure 99 targets is generated by Oregon Lottery sales and currently is set aside for economic development efforts. This $22 million makes up about a quarter of the budget for Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency. According to Business Oregon’s annual report, in 2015 the agency created more than 2,200 jobs and helped retain nearly 6,800 more. 

That may be true, measure backers say, but they point to a study of their own concluding that doubling the number of state students who attend camps each year from 25,000 to 50,000 would create 500 new jobs, all in rural Oregon, to serve the facilities and programs the schools would use. 

We find that claim dubious, but even if it panned out, we still would not be convinced that this would be a wise investment for Oregon: For starters, Business Oregon has a much broader portfolio of projects that it can invest in and can invest throughout the state, from Oregon’s urban centers to its remotest locations. And the jobs the agency is helping to create go beyond the type of tourism jobs that expanding Outdoor School would tend to generate; those jobs likely would be part-time and lower-wage.

Shortchanging the state’s efforts to create and build successful businesses to help pay for Outdoor School doesn’t strike us as a particularly appealing tradeoff — and it’s one that could, in the long run, hobble our efforts to build a stronger economy.

Measure 99 is a feel-good measure that could help to throw a wrench into Oregon's economic recovery. Oregon voters should reject it. (mm)


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