Where do Oregon’s leaders stand when it comes to education? Nearly every legislator claims to be for kids and for improving education. Yet, many seem to think that more of the status quo solutions (more spending, more top-heavy rules, more oversight by bureaucrats) will fix the problems. In the meantime, thousands of children suffer in schools that are the wrong fit for their particular needs.

 

Click here for the Oregon House of Representatives Report Card                  Click here for the Oregon Senate Report Card

For this report card, we scored legislators on whether or not they supported changes that increase kids’ options. In the 2011 session, only a handful of such bills made it to a vote. Thus, we also included a bonus point for legislators when they chose to sponsor or carry such bills (even when the bill did not make it to a vote). Learn more about why increasing educational options is an essential part of the solution here.

We also want you to know when legislators accept money from the Status Quo Lobby. This is one important aspect of transparency. While it does not necessarily destine a legislator to vote only for the status quo, it certainly is a strong predictor of voting habits, as you will see in the report card. Click on the “GovDocs” link or followthemoney.org to research campaign donations that legislators received.

 

House Bill 3681, the Open Enrollment law passed in 2011: It allows students to enroll in public schools other than their local neighborhood school. Currently, it is very difficult, and often impossible, for parents to enroll their children in out-of-district public schools. Local districts often refuse permission for kids to transfer out. This bill would allow parents to enroll their kids in any public school, as long as the receiving school district is accepting transfers.

Enrollment would work similar to charter school enrollment. Families could enroll their children in any public school, provided that the school is accepting transfers. The school could not discriminate among transfers, nor could the student’s resident district refuse permission. Parents only need written permission from the receiving school, cutting back significantly on the red tape that transfer families have to navigate and freeing many families to make a choice that was not previously available.

Learn more here.

 

House Bill 3645 passed in 2011. It allows each of Oregon’s public colleges to sponsor a charter school. Oregon’s charter schools are public schools operated by non-profit organizations. These schools do not charge tuition, cannot be religiously based, and cannot discriminate against students for their background, academic aptitude, or any other reason.

To start a charter school, applicants enter a lengthy and politically charged application and negotiation process. The process has caused many good schools to be denied charters and has needlessly forced thousands of kids onto waiting lists for charter schools. Only school districts or the State Board of Education may sponsor charter schools under current law. Now, under this bill, once charter applicants apply and are rejected by their local school district, they can ask any nearby public college to sponsor the charter. This will allow more good charter applications to succeed, and it should help mitigate the political nature of the process. Many states, including New York, Michigan, and Minnesota, already have similar laws.

Under this bill, each public college or university will be allowed to sponsor only one charter school. This limit is unfortunate. However, it will be much easier to ask to raise that limit once we have successful examples of college-sponsored charter schools here in Oregon.

 

House Bill 2301 loosened enrollment restrictions for Oregon’s online charter schools. For a few years leading up to the bill, Oregon’s online charter schools had been operating under a statewide enrollment cap that kept many children from benefiting from the innovative and successful online charter option.

The legislature placed the cap on Oregon’s virtual charter schools in 2009. That statewide enrollment cap was set to expire this fall, but other enrollment problems would have remained. This bill fixes some of those problems, allowing kids to attend any public virtual charter school without having to obtain their local district’s permission. This will be life changing for many families who have been unable to benefit from Oregon’s online charter schools because of these enrollment restrictions. It also will make life much easier for families who have already received district permission but must wade through the same transfer paperwork year after year.

One unfortunate provision in the bill allows districts to deny local students’ access to a virtual charter school once three percent of district students already have enrolled in virtual charter schools. But parents will be able to appeal these denials to the State Board of Education. Less than one percent of Oregon’s kids currently attend virtual charter schools, so this should not be a problem for some time.

One better provision in HB 2301 will allow up to five percent of virtual charter schools’ courses to be taught by teachers who are not licensed in Oregon. This will permit teachers from other states or professionals with specific expertise or advanced degrees to bring their talents and training to the virtual classroom.

Under current law, it doesn’t matter how qualified a teacher is or whether a teacher is licensed in neighboring Washington, California, or any other state. A teacher must be licensed here in Oregon to teach any virtual charter course in Oregon. But now, that will change for a handful of courses. Oregon’s virtual charter students can have access to more advanced or obscure courses that lack the demand or local skill to be provided by a local teacher.

 

Senate Bill 250, passed in 2011, allows specified school districts to withdraw from their education service districts (ESD). ESDs provide certain services for districts, like special education. The purpose of ESDs is to provide specialized services at a more affordable price by pooling resources. To learn more, read this Cascade article and its links. While this bill did not increase educational options for children directly, it increases options for school districts and allows some school districts to hold some ESDs accountable for the quality (or lack of quality) of their services.

 

House Bill 2287 was brought to a House floor vote in 2011, but it failed to pass. Accordingly, the Senate did not get to vote on the bill. House Bill 2287 would have modified the application process for public charter schools. Currently, charter school applicants must undergo a lengthy, expensive, and often highly politicized process to get a school approved. This bill would have modified the process by requiring that parties negotiate in good faith and in a timely manner. Read the proposed bill or watch the heated House floor debate.