Cascade founder Steve Buckstein orchestrated testimony Thursday on an exciting Education Savings Account bill that may represent the future of school choice in Oregon. The bill had a “concept hearing” before the Senate Interim Education and Workforce Development Committee.* Bend Senator Tim Knopp led off, followed by two mothers with children in public schools and the director of our Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, Kathryn Hickok. They told the committee how important the Education Equity Emergency Act (E3) would be for special needs, foster, and low-income students in Oregon.
Modeled after Arizona’s successful program, the E3 Act would create Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for some of these vulnerable children, letting them use 90 percent of their state education funding for approved educational expenses like private schools, tutoring, education therapy, textbooks, online education programs, community colleges, and universities. Shopping for the best education at good prices will result in families being able to save unspent funds in their student accounts for future college costs.
Steve told the committee he had spoken with a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) who volunteers to speak up for kids in the foster care system.** She could not testify on Thursday, but believes it is important for public education money to follow these children to the schools or educational services of their and their foster family’s choice, rather than simply sending the kids to the local public school nearest the foster home where they happen to be. She explained how many of the foster kids she sees feel so abused by the system that by the time they turn 18―and “age out” of foster care―they want nothing more to do with the system, even if public money is available for their higher education needs. ESAs would empower these students to have more control over their destinies. Hopefully, she or other CASAs will be able to testify in favor of the E3 Act (SB1576) during the February legislative session.
**After the hearing, the CASA I referred to in my testimony did speak publicly about the bill with the NW Watchdog news organization which published this story on 1-22-14:
Oregon foster advocate backs school choice legislation.