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Voters to Decide if Oregon Will be First State to Allocate Funding for Outdoor Education

Voters to Decide if Oregon Will be First State to Allocate Funding for Outdoor Education

For the first time in the nation’s history, Oregon could become the only state that dedicates funding to outdoor education should voters vote in favor of an upcoming statewide ballot measure.

Inspired by a program called The Outdoor School, Measure 99 would use a portion of funding ($22 million to be exact) from the state lottery's economic development fund to help schools send their sixth graders to participate in the week-long outdoor learning experience. 

According to OutdoorSchoolForAll.org, the program began in Oregon in 1957. Since its founding, numbers of participating middle school students have ebbed and flowed with approximately only half of Oregon sixth graders participating now.

If the measure passes, supporters hope the funding will help ensure all Oregon sixth graders participate every year.

"Kids come alive—curious and engaged—when they get outdoors. Outdoor School is a smart, time-tested, hands-on science-based week of solid, effective education. Breathing fresh air, surrounded by wonder, collaborating with other kids builds confidence and self-sufficiency as kids learn to value and make responsible choices about our incredible natural resources,” the pro-Measure 99 site reads.

Supporters of the measure point to studies that have proven the effectiveness of outdoor education, like a study commissioned by the Gray Family Foundation released in June 2015.

The study found that if every fifth and sixth grader in Oregon participated in Outdoor School, "the program could reasonably expect to generate more than 1,000 FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) jobs and more than $28 million in income in Oregon,” said Hood River News. 

When it comes to specifically improving student achievement, Measure 99 itself speculates that outdoor education will help students build the foundational skills needed to excel in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers.

Other studies from state universities have found that Outdoor School improves attendance and boosts participant’s self-esteem.

Should there be left over funding after every fifth- and sixth-grade student attends Outdoor School, the measure indicates that excess funding should be used to fund additional outdoor education programs in the state’s K-12 public schools.

Although the measure is expected to pass with overwhelming support, opponents argue the measure will take money from other programs that need it more.

"Having an opportunity to be out in the woods and experience nature is valuable. No disagreement there. But we cannot rob other programs every time advocates organize for a cause and decide they know what's best for everyone —if someone else will pay for it,” said Senator Betsy Johnson in an opinion piece on OregonLive.com.

Still, with no organized opposition just two weeks before voting will take place, it is likely that Oregon will be the very first state to allocate funds for helping kids use outdoor instruction to learn.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

10/26/2016

Do you support setting aside funding specifically for outdoor learning?

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