Month: January 2016

2016’s Record-Breaking Celebration of School Choice

This week is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children “in a positive, forward-looking, fun, nonpolitical, and nonpartisan way.”

Planned by a diverse coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. School Choice Week began five years ago with 150 events. Since then, it has grown into the world’s largest celebration of education reform. The 2016 School Choice Week will feature more than 16,140 independently planned events nationwide.

Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, explains, “More American families than ever before are actively choosing the best educational environments for their children, which has galvanized millions of additional parents―those without options―to demand greater choices for their own children. National School Choice Week will [provide] a platform for people to celebrate school choice where it exists and demand it where it does not.”

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more diverse today than it was even a few years ago. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choices in education are the way of the future. For more information, visit National School Choice Week online at

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week School Choice Policy Picnic on Thursday, January 28, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the importance of school choice and where we go from here to get more of it in Oregon. Those interested in attending can RSVP online.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.



Read Blog Detail

Oregon Legislature Should Continue Open Enrollment in Public Schools

By Bobbie Jager

This week marks National School Choice Week, and states across the nation have much to celebrate. In the past decade, choice advocates across the political spectrum have worked to pass legislation including full funding for online and charter schools, education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits for children with disabilities, and open enrollment, which allows children to register freely beyond school district borders. School choice advocates in states like Indiana, Colorado, and Florida are also working to break down the walls between the K-12 education system and higher education so students not only earn a high school diploma, but are well on their way to earning an associate’s degree.


When our state decided to create a Common School Fund, it was with the belief that a successful society was dependent upon having a skilled and educated citizenry, and that it was in the public’s interest to pay for public education. But the Common School Fund was merely a funding mechanism. It was agnostic on the delivery mechanism.


In today’s society, we expect customization and personalization in every aspect of our life. Have you considered that maybe our education system is failing not because we lack funding, but, rather, because we’re still relying on a one-size-fits-all system for 550,000 students with little consideration for the needs of the individual student? Often, Oregon politicians talk about strengthening people’s rights to freely make choices about their lives, yet when it comes to school choice, families in Oregon are severely restricted. The resistance to school choice by education leaders in Oregon isn’t limited to simply expanding new options. Unfortunately, there is a constant effort to undo the few choice options available to Oregon families.


In 2011, a bipartisan Oregon legislature successfully increased options by expanding enrollment caps for online schools, creating a modified open enrollment option, and allowing colleges and universities to act as charter sponsors. Once caps were lifted, more Oregon students and their families chose online schooling. In turn, more public schools made online schooling an offering to stay competitive with their public charter school counterparts. The cap, however, is artificial. We should do away with it altogether and let parents have full access to that option.


When Oregon enacted open enrollment, hundreds of families across the state made the decision to leave their local school district for one that better suited the needs of their child. Unless the legislature acts in 2016, that choice will expire. Living in such a progressive state, doesn’t it make sense that we would continue to expand choices for parents instead of limit them?


Progressive Democrats from around the nation are moving in this direction. For example, former California Senate President Gloria Romero, a Democrat and an educator, passed the nation’s first parent trigger law. The law empowers parents whose children attend public schools that are in the bottom 20 percent of California’s system with one of three choices: implement a turn-around model with the district and new staff, transition the school into a charter school, or vote to shut the school down. Gloria understood empowering parents with choices would help children escape failing schools.


As a mother of 13 children, I quickly learned not every child fits into the same educational “box.” My children have attended public schools, including charter schools, private schools, experienced home schooling, and attended international schools when my family was stationed in Saudi Arabia. My kids fill the spectrum from special needs to children identified as talented and gifted. To assume each child is well-served by the exact same educational delivery formula is a recipe for disaster. We now see the results of that thinking in Oregon’s poor graduation rates.


My message to Oregon legislators is to look at what Democrats in other states are doing to end inequality in their education systems. Their efforts are based on choice and empowering parents to make necessary changes. Let’s end our practice of tying a child’s educational future to their ZIP code and their income. It’s time to give all Oregon school children the choice for a better future.

Bobbie Jager is the executive director of Building Excellent Schools Together (BEST), a nonpartisan organization committed to parent empowerment and increasing the options for education delivery in our public school system. She was named Oregon Mother of the Year in 2012. Ms. Jager is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

A version of this commentary was originally published in The Oregonian on January 24, 2016 as Oregon Legislature should preserve open enrollment in public schools.

Read Blog Detail

Press Release: Largest Celebration of Education Reform in U.S. History Begins January 24

January 22, 2016

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:
Steve Buckstein

503-242-0900 or


Cascade Policy Institute Plans Special Event to Celebrate National School Choice Week 2016

Portland, Oregon to play role in nation’s largest celebration of education reform


Portland, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute will hold a special event in celebration of National School Choice Week 2016, organizers announced today. The event will shine a spotlight on the need to expand access to educational options for all children.

The event will take place at noon on Thursday, January 28, at Cascade Policy Institute. Cascade’s Founder and Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein will discuss the latest school choice news and what’s happening in Oregon. The event is open to the public, but reservations are required.

“Oregon is behind the national school choice curve. It’s time we caught up, so all Oregon students can get the best education possible regardless of their zip code,” said Buckstein.

School choice means empowering parents with the freedom to choose the best educational environments for their children. The goal of National School Choice Week (NSCW) is to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Started in 2011, NSCW has grown into the world’s largest celebration of opportunity in education. The Week is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort and welcomes all Americans to get involved and to have their voices heard. Held every January, NSCW shines a positive spotlight on effective education options for every child.

National School Choice Week 2016 will be held January 24-30, 2016. The Week will be the largest series of education-related events in U.S. history:

  • 16,140 total events across all 50 states
  • 13,224 schools of all types are holding events
  • 808 homeschool groups are holding events
  • 1,012 chambers of commerce are holding events
  • 27 governors have issued proclamations recognizing School Choice Week in their states
  • More than 200 mayors and county leaders have issued School Choice Week proclamations
  • There will be rallies and special events at 20 state capitol buildings

“From 150 events in our inaugural year, 2011, to 5,500+ events in 2014, the impact of National School Choice Week has been nothing short of incredible,” said Andrew Campanella, National School Choice Week’s president.

“Thinking back to that first year, I am just overwhelmed at how much NSCW has grown, with so many different folks across the country shining in the positive spotlight of this effort. From students and parents and teachers to school leaders, elected officials, governors, mayors, state legislators, concerned citizens, education organizations and small businesses, National School Choice Week has truly brought people together to celebrate educational opportunity.”

By participating in National School Choice Week 2016, Cascade Policy Institute joins hundreds of organizations, thousands of groups, and millions of Americans in raising awareness about the need to empower parents with the ability to choose the best educational environments for their children.

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s premier policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.

For more information, visit or visit


Read Blog Detail

Will Oregon Price the Least-Skilled out of the Workforce…Too Slowly?

As Oregon’s February legislative session approaches, Governor Kate Brown wants to head off a contentious minimum wage ballot measure that would raise Oregon’s rate up to $15 per hour over three years. But, her plan seems to upset all sides.

She has determined that the Portland area minimum wage should be exactly $15.52 by 2022. She has also figured out that the rest of the state should impose a $13.50 minimum by 2022. “That is entirely too long” to wait, according to activists behind the ballot measure.

Solid research concludes raising the minimum wage at all is not an effective way to alleviate poverty. It is, however, an effective way to pander to voters who either don’t read the economic literature, don’t believe it, or don’t care.

Oregon already has one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country at $9.25 per hour. But, with some cities and states determined to raise their rates to $15 soon, our Governor’s $15.52 Portland area proposal over six years may not be enough to keep us at the forefront of pricing the least-skilled people out of the workforce altogether.

Perhaps she should go for a $30 minimum wage rate by 2030. Or a $40 rate by 2040. Or…well, you get the idea.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Read Blog Detail

Electric Utilities Should Call the Bluff of Green Radicals

Two committees of the Oregon Legislature will hear presentations this week on a legislative proposal to eliminate the use of coal in Oregon’s electricity grid by 2035. Coal is the source of power for 33.4% of Oregon’s electricity consumption.

According to news reports, Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp have agreed to this proposal in order to head off a possible ballot measure that would impose even more onerous requirements if passed in November of this year.

The biggest problem with the proposal is that the two renewable technologies most preferred by radical environmental groups – solar and wind – are intermittent sources that randomly fail to provide any electricity to the grid. During the winter months when utilities must provide the highest levels of reliable power – the so-called “peak periods” – wind and solar combined supply only about 5% of the necessary electricity.

This means that ratepayers will be forced to spend billions subsidizing uneconomic renewable power facilities, and then pay a second time for gas-fired generators that will be necessary to back up the unreliable wind and solar plants.

Utility lobbyists should be ashamed of themselves for agreeing to this deal, and legislators should soundly reject it in the February legislative session. Instead, they should call the bluff of the radical greens and let them put their measures on the ballot. Few Oregonians would willingly support a “freeze in the dark” policy if given a chance to vote.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Read Blog Detail

Taxpayers Bear the Risk of a Very Rich Oregon Public Employees Retirement System

By Randall Pozdena

The Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) fund is, once again, in the news because of its weak financial condition. The Oregon Supreme Court recently rejected cost containment changes to PERS plans. Also, asset returns have been weaker than hoped. The Oregonian reported last December 1 that PERS’ unfunded actuarial liability (UAL) was likely to be $20.5 billion by the January 1, 2016—an amount equal to 27 percent of Oregon household income.

The PERS experience illustrates the hazard of legislating defined-benefit (DB) pension plans for public employees. If, as courts have ruled, such legislation creates a contract, the state and other public employers have little ability to manage unanticipated plan risks. The problem is aggravated because DB plans tempt politicians to make overly lavish promises today because risks are only manifest in the future. The complexity of defined-benefit plan actuarial mathematics helps obscure the risks of bad plans.

The origin of the PERS funding problems is 1975 legislation that promised a guarantee against low fund asset returns—specifically, returns below those assumed by the plan itself. In addition, between 1975 and 1999, the PERS board went further, crediting most excess returns to beneficiaries. Set-asides for the inevitable decline in returns grew to be woefully inadequate.

I learned of this crucial feature from the fund’s actuary in 1993—my second year of service on the Oregon Investment Council (OIC). The heads-we-win, tails-employers-lose arrangement was unique among state plans and there was little appreciation of the risks it posed. In fact, however, the crediting process is tantamount to a very risky derivatives strategy—called selling “naked put options”—with employers and taxpayers de facto bearing the risk.

Since the burden of this practice was not known, the OIC requested one of its consultants to make this measurement. An attorney for the unions later characterized this as “pushing buttons [Pozdena and the OIC] had no business pushing.” The dire implications for fund solvency were presented at a PERS board retreat after a year of extraordinarily large asset returns in 1999. The board was urged to not credit that year’s excess return, but did so anyway.

The “winners” in this risky game were Oregon public employees in the plan for the longest time (“Tier 1”). According to PERS data, 2006 Tier 1 retirees with 30 years of experience enjoy average retirement income equal to 100 percent of their final average salary (FAS)—a 100 percent replacement rate. The average replacement rate for all 30-year retirees between 1990 and 2014 is 81 percent. In contrast, a 30-year private DB retiree in our census region enjoyed a replacement rate of just 51 percent in 2010. Moreover, in 2015, only 19 percent of private workers have access to a DB plan, and 54 percent have access to a defined contribution (DC) plan.

I have calculated that, to enjoy a 50 percent replacement rate after 30 years using a DC plan, workers have to invest 18 percent of their income yearly. To achieve 81 percent or 100 percent, like some PERS beneficiaries, they would have to put aside 30 percent or 40 percent of each year’s salary, respectively.

There is an axiom in finance that “risk does not go away; it can only be put on someone else.” There are only three ways to manage risk in this case. One is to achieve better asset returns. But the OIC and the Treasury have limited ability to do so without incurring further risk to plan solvency. The second way is to reform, after the fact, historical crediting excesses. This option is foreclosed by Oregon Supreme Court rulings. The court considers legislated pension plans to be de facto contracts with inviolate features. The state can, and has, created less risk-prone plans for future employees, but this cannot extinguish existing risk. The third way to shift risk is through increased taxation of private incomes and/or termination of public employees and loss of their services. Taxing private incomes is tantamount to making the private sector bear its own plus PERS risks. It also poses macroeconomic risks. Professor Alexander Volokh of Emory Law School has suggested outsourcing or privatization of public services as a means of lowering pension costs that limits economic and service losses.

Randall Pozdena, Ph.D. and CFA, is a consulting economist and former professor and research vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. He is also a former member and chair of the Oregon Investment Council and a Cascade Policy Institute Academic Advisor.

A version of this commentary was originally published in The Oregonian on December 10, 2015 as “Why PERS is under water yet again.”

Read Blog Detail

U.S. Supreme Court Today Hears Teachers’ Case to Be Free from All Union Dues

Steve Buckstein

PORTLAND, Ore. – The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments this morning in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case aimed at protecting the First Amendment rights of free speech and free association for public employees nationwide, including Oregon.

Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California public school teachers argue that their Constitutional rights are being violated by the collection of so-called “fair share” or “agency” fees from their paychecks to pay for services the teachers don’t want, from a union whose political goals they oppose.

The Court has long allowed both public and private sector employees to opt out of union membership and the political portion of union dues, but has allowed unions to collect fees for bargaining and representation purposes. Now, Rebecca Friedrichs and her colleagues are arguing that in the public sector, everything their union does is inherently political and therefore they should not be compelled to support that organization with their money.

Organizations and individuals across the country have filed Amicus Briefs with the Court in this case, including two Oregon public employees who have opted out of membership in the labor union that represents them, but are still “…required to make ‘payments-in-lieu-of-dues’ to SEIU….” Their brief was submitted by local attorneys Jill Gibson and James Huffman. Mr. Huffman is Dean Emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland and an Academic Advisor to Cascade Policy Institute.

Cascade Policy Institute founder and Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein notes that,

“In bringing her case to the U.S. Supreme Court Rebecca Friedrichs may become the most well-known public school teacher in America—and the most controversial. She is taking this action because, in her own words, ‘It’s time to set aside this union name-calling and all this fear mongering, and let’s put America and her children first, and let’s put the rights of individuals above the rights of these powerful unions.’”

Buckstein adds,

“Cascade Policy Institute stands with Rebecca Friedrichs and her colleagues in this important First Amendment struggle. We look forward to the Court ruling in favor of individual rights above the rights of what Rebecca calls ‘these powerful unions’.”

The Court is expected to announce its ruling near the end of June.

Cascade Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and educational organization that focuses on state and local issues in Oregon. Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.


Read Blog Detail

“They Left out Radio!” ― Human creativity is the key to economic growth

Bull market? Bear market? Recession? Recovery? What does 2016 have in store for us?

Our economy—national, state, and local—is usually described in terms of numbers, percentages, and quarterly comparisons. But the picture is richer than an aggregate dollar value of impersonal production and consumption. No economy exists without millions of unique people bringing to the marketplace their gifts of creativity, intelligence, initiative, and effort. Human capital―the knowledge, skills, and experiences of people―is the true wealth of a society.

The story is told that during his presidency, Ronald Reagan remarked on the limitations of economic predictions that don’t take into account people’s capacity to invent the unimaginable. During a meeting on economic policy, he said:

“You know, back in the twenties I think they did a report for Herbert Hoover about what the future economy would be like. And they included all their projections on industries and restaurants and steel, everything. But you know what they left out? They left out radio! They left out the fantastic rise of the media, which transformed the commercial marketplace. And those were economists talking about the future!

“And now they make their projections, and they leave out high tech….”*

Fostering economic growth requires remembering where wealth comes from. Government doesn’t create it, and human beings can’t fully predict it. Individuals can change the course of the economy with one key new idea. So in this new year, let’s celebrate the special contributions every person brings to American enterprises, great and small, in Oregon and across the country.

* Peggy Noonan, What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (New York: Random House, 1990), 146.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.


Read Blog Detail

Policy Picnic – January 28, 2016

Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade Founder and Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein

Topic: Celebrate National School Choice Week!


Cascade will celebrate this year’s National School Choice Week (January 24-30) with our first Policy Picnic of the year on Thursday, January 28, from noon to 1:30 pm in our offices. Steve Buckstein will discuss the latest School Choice news and what’s happening in Oregon. Seating is limited, so RSVP today!

Part of Steve’s presentation will discuss public interest lawyer and school choice defender Clint Bolick’s visit to Portland in 1990 in support of that year’s school choice Measure 11, which Steve and the other Cascade founders helped to place on the ballot. Clint came here to defend the measure’s constitutionality all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, had it been approved by voters.

On January 6, 2016, Clint Bolick was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court. People are already speculating that he could be on the short list to fill a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy under a future President.

Clint Bolick was a cofounder of the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice and most recently was Vice President for Litigation at Cascade’s sister organization in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute. Filing that position now will be another friend of Cascade and public interest attorney, Tim Sandefur of Pacific Legal Foundation. All in all, 2016 is starting out as a good year for Liberty Litigators and all liberty-minded Americans.

There is no charge for this event, but reservations are required as space is limited.  To reserve your free tickets, click here.

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group
Read Blog Detail