Original Source | Oregonian
By Vic Atiyeh
, February 21, 2012

As former governor, I have seen the exceptional things that happen when lawmakers come together from both sides of the aisle to take action. I believe Oregon legislators have one such opportunity in front of them today: House Bill 4165 gives our state an unprecedented opportunity to change the rules of the game for Oregon’s most vulnerable children.

The state recently reported that just 66 percent of Oregon’s high school students are graduating in four years. Research has shown us over and over again that to truly affect this number, we need to reach kids long before they set foot in high school or even in kindergarten. Early literacy, for example, is one of our most reliable indicators of high school graduation — and we know that in Oregon, 69 percent of children are not proficient in reading by fourth grade. In short, the achievement gap begins early and is hard to reverse. We need to reach children before it starts.

HB4165 would require that the state put into place a kindergarten readiness assessment and establish a quality rating system for early education providers. Both of these achievements will help improve the quality of available early learning programs and provide critical information for parents, providers, educators and policymakers.

Moreover, Oregon’s early childhood programs are currently scattered across six state agencies and subject to a chaotic governance of different rules, regulations and standards. HB4165 would build a more coherent and coordinated early childhood system by creating an oversight Early Learning Council and replacing the state commission system.

This bill has already generated momentum. The Legislature has taken important steps by passing a Senate bill that paved the way for HB4165. Recent amendments will ensure that lawmakers as well as the public will continue to have input into the planning process and help to shape the new education system for our state.

Enacting HB4165 will put our children on a path not only toward a robust education, but toward responsible citizenship and becoming productive members of society. We cannot afford to lose this opportunity, both for ourselves and for our state’s future.

Vic Atiyeh served as governor of Oregon from 1979-1987.