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Chapter 5: Civics—Some key changes that affect local government and civic life

This section identifies some key changes affecting local government.
Overall shifts in school district trends can be caused by a variety of factors—families moving within a region or students moving between public and private schools. Rather than attempt to answer those questions, this section raises a few broad trends for Portland Public Schools (PPS).
Portland Public Schools has experienced a decline in elementary enrollment of over 5,000 students since the 1995–96 school year. Projections call for a leveling off of elementary enrollment and a continuing decline in middle and high school enrollment.
The student body of PPS elementary schools in proportionally more racially and ethnically diverse than the Portland population overall; around 44% of students are nonwhite or Hispanic American compared to 26% of the Portland population.
Student Need
The proportion of students receiving free or reduced lunch is an indicator of family financial status. Data from 1998–2002 indicates an increase in need for high-school aged students and a relatively stable level of need for other students. (Long-term data would be useful in determining any potential shifts since 1980 regarding the proportion of PPS students in need.)
Student Achievement
Elementary School
At the elementary school level, PPS student reading scores and math scores improved from 1980 to 2005.
Reading Mean Scores*
Grade 3
Grade 5
Math Mean Scores*
Grade 3
Grade 5
*Test scores range from 150–300. Third grade scores for 1980 taken from fall term 4th graders. All other scores are from spring term.
High School
At the high school level, scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, also improved from the early 1980s through 2005. The mean SAT scores for PPS students are typically slightly lower than state scores and about 20 points higher than the national mean. From 1980 to 2005, the percentage of PPS students taking the SAT rose from 44% to 52%, even while a higher proportion of graduates took the SAT.
Overall Student Achievement
According to the Progress Board, since 1996 there has been an increase in the number of Multnomah County students meeting or exceeding reading and math standards with significantly more 3rd graders reaching this mark than older students.
Social Safety Net
This section focuses on cash assistance programs, health care and food assistance. Other changes over the past three decades include assist for childcare, housing, mental health and energy costs.
Cash Assistance
The Welfare Reform movement and Welfare-to-Work programs, started in the 1980s, initiated requirements for parents with young children to work in order to receive certain types of public assistance. Decreases in state funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) also had an impact on poor families. Income limits remained the same, despite changes in the cost of living.
TANF Income Limit—Family of Three
Maximum earnings to qualify
% of earnings compared to federal poverty rate
Source: Oregon Center for Public Policy, In the Shadows of Recovery
As a result, fewer working families now receive this assistance. During the same time, Portland experienced a 2% increase in the proportion of families living in poverty.
For reference, the federal poverty rate for a family of four was $9,300 in 1982 and $20,000 in 2006. If the poverty rate was calculated using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, the current poverty level would be about $22,900.
Food Assistance
The Food Stamp Program currently serves more than 25 million people a year nationally, by providing a food budget of less than $1 per person per meal. In Oregon and Clark County, the average of people receiving food stamps has increased by over 150,000 people since 1996, with emergency food requests also increasing over this time period.
Health Care
Changes in health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays continue to rise as do prescription costs. According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy almost 75% of Oregonians employed by the private sector had health insurance in 1980; by 2002, that figure had dropped to 60%.
In 1994, the Oregon Health Plan began as a groundbreaking new program for low-income Oregonians, including those with incomes under the federal poverty rate who did not qualify for Medicaid. In the mid 1990s, the program contributed to a decrease in the number of uninsured; however, State budget problems have led to program cutbacks and declines in the number of people covered.
Civic Engagement
The quality of community and civic life depend to a great degree on the efforts of volunteers and nonprofits. Since 1992, there has been a decrease in the number of Multnomah County residents volunteering at least 50 hours per year.
Nonprofit Sector
Yet the nonprofit sector is experiencing growth. According to public pollster Adam Davis, nonprofits are the only institutions highly trusted by Oregonians. He suggests that effective provision of public goods is likely to increasingly rely on this sector. (A. Davis, City Club speech, 5/12/06)
Attitudes Toward Government
Portland residents’ opinion about how local government was about the same in 2004 as in 1994, though opinion had shifted up and down over that time span.
Satisfaction with local government differs considerably by neighborhood, with people living closer to Portland’s core generally being more satisfied than residents in outer areas of the city.
[Click on map to enlarge or download]
  • What role should the Comp Plan have in issues affecting public schools and other critical inter-jurisdictional issues?
  • What are the most critical ways that the changing roles and responsibilities of local and national government are likely to affect Portland’s future? Should the Comp Plan help guide the City’s response to these changes? If so, how?
  • How should the Comp Plan relate to shifts in civic engagement and public attitudes?
  • Portland Public Schools
  • Oregon Center for Public Policy
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Oregon Food Bank
  • Adam Davis, City Club lecture, 5/12/06
  • Portland Multnomah Progress Board
  • Portland City Auditor