The Oregon Legislature doesn’t officially convene for two weeks, but already the policy questions lawmakers plan to tackle are clear. Early childhood education, transportation, income inequality and, likely, tax reform will dominate the conversation for the next several months.

At the same time, the state has released its retooled 10-year plan, which relies heavily on data to show what each of these policy topics, and others, looks like in contemporary Oregon and the recent past.

Department of Administrative Services Director Michael Jordan said the plan is meant to help inform policy decisions by showing what works and what does not over time.

It is a jumping-off point right now, he said, and he hopes lawmakers will use it as a reference point every two years or so.

Below are some of the data-based snapshots of Oregon in the plan. They all relate to the policy areas the Legislature plans to address this year, although the plan does include data on issues that are less prominent.

1) Third-grade reading

The ability to read fluently in the third grade, when children are 8 or 9, is considered a milestone on the way to graduating from high school on time. The 10-year plan shows the results in each Oregon school district between 2005 and 2014, allowing a time-lapse view of the map.

It shows inconsistent results, with ultimately positive progress. Testing standards changed during those years, which means the benchmarks and the way they were measured were not necessarily the same.

About 60 percent of third-grade students met or exceeded the standard in 2005, and about 68 percent did in 2014.

The Salem-Keizer School District was consistently below the state average, with 48 percent of third-grade students passing their reading test in 2005 and 58 percent passing in 2014.

2) Kindergarten readiness

Last year was the first time kindergartners were tested when they came into school, so there is only one year of data available. It gives an average score for kindergartners in each district in six areas: self regulation, interpersonal skills, learning approach, numbers, letter names and letter sounds.

It doesn’t show change over time, but it does compare children across districts.

Salem-Keizer students scored at or below the state average in every category.

3) Income inequality

Both Gov. John Kitzhaber and several lawmakers have said that income inequality, particularly the gap between urban and rural Oregon, needs to be a priority for discussion in 2015.

There is no one set of data that shows “income inequality.” However, a few sets together paint a general picture.

The first shows Oregon’s per capita income as a percentage of the average of Northwest states between 1990 and 2012. In 1990, Oregonians made 97 percent of what the average Northwest worker made; in 2012, the Oregon worker made 91 percent that of the Northwest worker. That is the lowest mark in the 24 years of data, including the height of the Great Recession.

The second uses the same measure to compare Oregon’s per capita income with the American average. In 1990, the average Oregonian made 92 percent of the average American. That figure fell to 89 percent in 2012 — again, the worst number shown in the 24 years of data. And Oregon’s average per-capita income has been falling relative to the rest of the nation for years, long before the recession and long after it ended.

Finally, the 10-year plan provides a map showing the percentage of families in each county who are living in poverty, again between 1990 and 2012. The time lapse shows Oregon becoming increasingly poorer, beginning years before the recession began.

In 1990, 12 percent of families were poor. In 2012, 15 percent were.

The map also shows the decline of rural Oregon, the area lawmakers most want to examine. For example, about 15 percent of families in Douglas County in Southern Oregon were poor in 1990, but by 2004, it had improved enough to catch the state average of 13.6 percent. By 2012, it was well above the average, at 17.75 percent, and on a trajectory to stay there.

What the data do not do is provide solutions to these and other issues across Oregon. The policies that will potentially alter the course of trends shown in the 10-year plan will come out of the Capitol after the Legislature convenes Feb. 2.

[email protected], (503) 399-6719 or follow at twitter.com/HannahKHoffman

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