One Vote Short

Matt WingardHouse Education Committee votes on our school choice proposal

On Friday, May 11, 2007 supporters of House Bill 3010 convinced the House Education Committee to vote on the issue of giving low-income minority parents a choice in their child’s education.

Using a procedural motion, we attempted to amend HB 3010 into a Senate bill (SB 334A) being considered by the Committee. Both School Choice Working Group board member Esther Hinson and I testified on the amendment.

We reminded committee members that drop-out and reading failure rates continue at alarming rates within the poorest neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland. We gave each committee member copies of our report on the Jefferson Cluster. We also reminded them that the high school’s most recent principal did not last a full year and the district superintendent has decided to move on after less than three years–both events were predicted by our report released in April of 2006.

Esther Hinson is a former Portland Public School (PPS) teacher and currently helps students study for their GED at a local workforce center. She told the committee about the students she teaches who dropped out of their local public school and the need for them to have more choices. Esther also told the legislators how her divorce some years back had forced her to remove her daughter from a private school that was working for her child. Esther made it clear that finances alone forced her child to attend a school that was not a good fit. She pleaded with the committee members to support the modest pilot program created by the Freedom to Choose My School Grant program.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-NW Portland) talked about how hard his son-in-law and daughter have worked as teachers in the PPS system. He never once addressed Esther’s concerns. He told us he considered HB 3010 an attack on PPS and when we offered to work with him on the bill he replied:

“I’d prefer you bury it.”

Our amendment failed by a vote of 5-4. Representatives Jerry Krummel (R-Wilsonville), John Dallum (R-The Dalles), Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) and John Lim (R-Gresham) voted to support the pilot project. Rep. Dallum, a former public school district superintendent supported our proposal saying:

“…after 30 years we could try almost anything and do better.”

You can listen to last Friday’s testimony and the reaction from Committee members by clicking here. Jump ahead to 00:41:31.

While we fell one vote short of the necessary support to advance the Freedom to Choose My School Grant program, we have much to be proud of and to build on for the next legislative session.

One third of the legislature supported our bill in the first year that we attempted to lobby at the State Capitol. A number of others expressed off-the-record interest in our attempts to bring more choices to low- income minority parents in Portland. Few bills get this kind of support during their first legislative session.

We had an extremely successful and emotional hearing on our bill on April 5, 2007 (listen here. Skip to 01:36:50). Committee members were clearly impressed with the testimony and the sincerity of our delegation. We have Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn) to thank for scheduling that hearing in front of her committee.

Personally, I was impressed by the level of support we got during our first attempt to pass HB 3010. We’ll be back.

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