Education is always the big-dog issue in the legislature, but this year it may be dogged by animals of a different stripe.
Budgets for K-12 schools and public colleges and universities are the dominant issues because they command so much of the state budget. But in the 2015 legislative session, education advocates may be on the hot seat explaining why so few Oregon high school graduates can pass college-level writing and math classes and so many young women are subject to sexual abuse on campus.
The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond reported that only 30 percent of 2014 Oregon public high school students who took the ACT scored as college-ready in language, reading, math and science. Hammond said that low percentage could undermine Oregon's goal of having 80 percent of its adult population earning a college degree or credential.
The data were worse for minority students, Hammond wrote. "Fewer than 20 percent of Oregon's African-American, American Indian, Hispanic and Pacific Islander students who took the ACT scored college-ready in at least three of the four areas tested."
State education leaders are responding with implementation this school year of the Common Core standards, investing more in early learning and devoting more energy to low-performing schools serving students from low-income families.
However, the poor showing of public schools could prove to be a tipping point causing a larger, faster exodus to private or home schools. This is the pattern in other parts of the country, which in turn tends to convert parents who were eager public education supporters into more skeptical voters.
Students may become their own doubting Thomases. As the expense of college has grown and students see a mountain of debt in their future, they may be less enthusiastic about taking college prep courses in high school. Even with the knowledge that college education translates into higher earning power, some students just don't think it's worth it, which could lead to a growing number of students who simply don't bother to take ACT or SAT tests.
As students prepare to enter or return to college campuses next month, they face heightened fears of sexual predators. Many colleges across the nation are being investigated for who they handle cases of sexual abuse.
While Oregon colleges and universities are under that scrutiny, the University of Oregon is under the cloud of an alleged multiple rape that led to the removal of three members of the Ducks basketball team from school and may have been a factor in the abrupt resignation of President Michael Gottfredson.
University officials are responding with beefed up security on campus and stepped up training sessions for incoming freshmen. But parents and students can be expected to raise their voices in the next legislative session for better protection for students and more consistent prosecution of sexual abuse perpetrators.
The legislative budget battle lines are unlikely to change much, but the shouting from the sidelines may ring out as different and, from a long-range point of view for public education, troubling.