Testimony in opposition to SB 1581 before the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development

Opposing More Top-Down Control of Oregon Education

Chair Hass, Co-Chair Morse, and members of the Committee, my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Portland. Our mission is to promote policies that enhance individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity in Oregon.

I’m here to oppose SB 1581 because I believe that the legislature is continuing to fall into the “bigger is better” trap. The goal of unifying everything from early childhood through graduate school education can’t be accomplished without pushing power and control even farther away from the people who should matter most—parents and students. This bill, by giving even partial control over a number of positions in Oregon’s public education system to the new Chief Education Officer, simply continues movement into that trap.

Before you approve any further Oregon Education Investment Board legislation, please ask yourselves how it squares with the Oregon Education Act for the Twenty-First Century, which overwhelmingly passed the legislature in 1991 when Governor Kitzhaber was President of the Senate.

It was full of new committees, new high school CIM and CAM tests (which were eventually abandoned), and a promise from the legislature that it would produce “the best educated citizens in the nation by the year 2000.” So, how did that work out?

In both 2010 and 2011, Education Week’s Annual Education Report Card gave Oregon a grade of C-. It ranked our public education system 43rd in the nation―not exactly best in the nation.

And how does this new effort square with the Quality Education Model, which then Governor Kitzhaber supported in 1999 by appointing the Quality Education Commission? The Model proposed entirely theoretical prototype elementary, middle, and high schools that, again theoretically and with enough funding, would get 90% of our kids to state standards. Does anyone really think that spending another two billion dollars this biennium, as the Model suggests, would do any such thing?

Why haven’t such big revolutionary reform efforts in the K-12 education system achieved their goals? Because, they “…suck power upward and away from parents and students into top down, centralized and inflexible political arrangements, where unions and other special interests have more political clout. This causes accountability to decline and results in higher per pupil costs and lower educational results.”*

Is the answer really to produce an even broader revolutionary reform effort, putting everything from early childhood education through graduate school into one centrally planned system?

I’m sure the Governor and the people he’s appointed to the Investment Board are very smart people. But no such group can hope to design a system that meets the needs of all Oregon children and their parents.

In conclusion, I want to quote from a 1991 Wall Street Journal column, “Education by Committee in Oregon,” in which we warned what would happen if the “revolutionary” Oregon Education Act for the Twenty-First Century went forward:

“…[T]o be ‘revolutionary,’ educational change must be systemic. It must reform the system, not just add to it. Oregon’s educational reformers are unwittingly legitimizing the very system that needs reform. Well-meaning politicians have once again increased state control over education in order to mandate desirable goals. The Oregon plan provides the nation with an important lesson in reform: how easy it is to fall into the bureaucratic trap of good intentions.”

Our 1991 critique could just as easily be said about the current “revolutionary” reforms through the Investment Board. It’s time to stop increasing state control over education and start moving accountability and control down toward parents and students.

Thank you.

 

* John T. Wenders, Ph.D., “Deconsolidate Oregon’s School Districts,”
Cascade Policy Institute, March 2005.

 

National School Choice Week Celebrates Opportunity and Innovation

This is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children.

Planned by a diverse and nonpartisan coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. The effort is a collaboration of more than 200 partner organizations, which each advance their own messages of educational opportunity while uniting with like-minded organizations across the country.

National School Choice Week believes that parents should be empowered to choose the best educational environments for their children and supports a variety of school choice options, including increased access to high-performing public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, private schools, homeschooling, and more.

The Wall Street Journal recently called 2011 “The Year of School Choice.” And here in Oregon, our legislature passed a bill to allow open enrollment among public school districts. Starting this March, parents may enroll their children in another district as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. This arrangement can promote increased enrollment in schools with empty seats while offering additional opportunities to out-of-district children.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that allowing families more freedom in educating their children is the way of the future. In a pioneer state, Oregonians should be proud of the ways we are innovating to give students more diverse choices in education.

 

Oregon Innovates During “The Year of School Choice”

The Wall Street Journal recently called 2011 “The Year of School Choice.” According to the July editorial:

“No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011, and 28 states have legislation pending….Louisiana enhanced its state income tax break for private school tuition; Ohio tripled the number of students eligible for school vouchers; and North Carolina passed a law letting parents of students with special needs claim a tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.”

It should be added that here in Oregon, our legislature passed a bill to allow open enrollment among public school districts. Starting in 2012, parents may enroll their children in another district as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. This arrangement can promote increased enrollment in schools with empty seats while offering additional opportunities to out-of-district children.

A second bill eased enrollment restrictions for online schools. A third allows public universities and colleges to sponsor charter schools. All three bills have been signed into law by Governor John Kitzhaber.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that allowing families more freedom in educating their kids is the way of the future. In a pioneer state, Oregonians should be proud of the ways we are innovating to give students more diverse choices in education.

Recent K-12 Education Reforms Let Kids Transfer to a Brighter Future

Public education exists to serve children – period. However, as evidenced by the Oregon Education Association’s (OEA) ongoing actions, some believe public education should serve primarily the adults who work in the system. Thankfully, this legislative session, Oregon’s state leaders concluded otherwise.

After tense negotiations on several education-related bills, Oregon’s legislature passed the most substantial education reforms Oregon has seen in decades, at the governor’s request. The more “controversial” elements of that package will provide students – who find their traditional public schools unsuitable – more educational options from which to choose, including charter and online schools. Such student-focused, choice-based measures were a particular pebble in the OEA’s shoe. Why?

Choice threatens the OEA’s monopolistic hold on public education. That grasp has allowed the OEA (a union) to become Oregon’s most financially powerful special interest group, lobbying for, well, itself. So when something undermines that power – even if that something is beneficial to children – the OEA will stand in the way, as it did this legislative session. Oregon families should be grateful the OEA lost and the governor and legislators led. Now, many children in need of a better education no longer will be held hostage.

For example, last summer, more than 4,700 Oregon kids were on waiting lists for charter schools. Because school districts were not authorizing enough additional charters to keep up with demand, desperate families have been left high and dry. (Currently, only districts and the State Board of Education can sponsor charters.)

Now, if charter school applicants are denied by districts, they can appeal to public colleges for sponsorship, providing a new avenue for charters to grow. Although public colleges will be able to sponsor just one charter each, this should help hundreds of families find the schools for which they are looking.

Many Oregon families also have been waiting for access to virtual, or online, charter schools. Currently, Oregon’s virtual charters are operating under an enrollment cap that has kept many kids from using this innovative option. Online learning is emerging as a cutting-edge way for students to have wider access to courses that otherwise might be unavailable to them.  If Oregonians want to enroll their children in such schools, why not let them?

Thanks to state leaders, kids now will be able to access any virtual charter school without having to obtain their local district’s permission – at least until three percent of that district’s students are attending a virtual school. Although still unnecessarily limited, this improvement will be life changing for families who have been denied entry. It also will make it easier for families who have received permission but have had to wade through the same transfer paperwork year after year.

The third choice measure that will benefit Oregon students essentially carries charter schools’ open-enrollment policy over to traditional public schools. Today, it is difficult, if not impossible, for parents to enroll their children in out-of-district public schools because districts often refuse to let kids transfer. Now, parents will be able to enroll their children in any public school, as long as the receiving school district is accepting transfers.

In short, districts no longer will be able to force kids to stay in their local public schools if they’re able to get a public education elsewhere.

The OEA claimed that giving parents such choices creates financial instability for schools (by losing transferees). Other states, which have such policies in place, seem to cope. Why can’t Oregon? Moreover, this begs another question: Does the OEA believe that it and traditional public schools are entitled to students?

If parents choose to leave a school, that suggests something is either wrong with the school or, even if the school is “good,” their children’s needs aren’t being adequately met. In both instances, parents believe they can find a better fit for their kids elsewhere. If the goal of public education is to educate, why deny children access to schools that could do a better job of educating?

Oregon’s lawmakers and governor finally are answering that question. They’ve put partisan politics aside to support reforms for which thousands of Oregon families have been waiting. There still is much work to be done to ensure Oregon’s children – not the OEA – are the true  of beneficiaries public education. But this start will show Oregonians that the sky doesn’t fall when choice is incorporated into public education; it gets brighter.

 

111,000 Reasons for Hope

Kathryn HickokQuickPoint!


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Are you dismayed by the high school graduation rates in so many major cities in the U.S.? If you could do something to help lower-income kids graduate from high school on time, would you do it?

Since 1999 the Children’s Scholarship Fund has helped over 111,000 children nationwide to attend the private schools of their parents’ choice. Studies of CSF partner programs around the country show the difference educational opportunity has made in these children’s lives, including raising their chances of high school graduation.

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What’s the Big IDEA?Picking Winners and Losers in Education

Christina MartinCascade Commentary

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Summary: A recent U.S. Supreme Court case requiring a school district to reimburse parents of a disabled child for education expenses widens the gap between the legal rights of disabled children and non-disabled children. In contrast, education tax credits or vouchers could provide every child with an education that meets his or her individual needs.

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“Education Does Come First, Doesn’t It?”

Kathryn HickokQuickPoint!

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“There must be a better answer than killing the online charter school movement,” declares the editorial board of the Medford Mail Tribune (“Education Does Come First, Doesn’t It?,” April 3, 2009). Unfortunately, killing online charter schools would be the likely effect of Senate Bill 767, which had a public hearing last week. And kids in rural Oregon would be some of the biggest losers.

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If School Choice Were a TV Show

Kathryn Hickok
QuickPoint!

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From most of the reporting on the subject of school vouchers in the mainstream press and from comments by politicians and teachers’ union officials, you would think by now someone would have premiered a new TV show called “Fear Factor: School Choice.” But the argument that vouchers would make public schools worse is like the monster in the bedroom closet. It isn’t real, but many people are too afraid to open the door to find out.

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