Testimony in opposition to SB 909
Before the Joint Education subcommittee of Ways & Means
Regarding establishing an Oregon Education Investment Board to oversee a unified public education system from early childhood through post secondary education
May 19, 2011
Audio can be found Here. Steve begins at the 49:20 mark.
Chairs Komp and Monroe 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 909 because I’m afraid that the legislature is about to fall into the “bigger is better” trap. You can’t unify everything from early childhood through post-secondary education without pushing power and control even farther away from the people who should matter most – parents and students.
You’re also about to fall into a related trap that says consolidating agencies, school districts, ESD’s, etc. will lead to efficiencies and cost savings.
Similar efforts have already been tried in Oregon, and failed. Starting before Dr. Kitzhaber became governor the first time, while he was Senate President, the legislature mandated a reduction in the number of school districts, hoping to see cost savings. Between 1992 and 2001 the number of districts fell from 277 to 198.
At the end of the process there were actually more central office staff per pupil than at the beginning. Also, non-teaching staff grew faster than teachers, and per student spending, adjusted for inflation, rose more than 11 percent.
You should ask how the new unifying effort embodied in SB 909 squares with the Education Act for the Twenty-First Century, which passed the legislature in 1991. Remember the certificates of initial and advanced mastery? Some of you probably don’t because they never gained any traction; they just cost taxpayers a lot of money.
And how does this new effort square with the Quality Education Model, which the legislature approved in 1999?
Why haven’t such efforts in the K-12 education system achieved their goals? Because, according to the late education policy analyst John Wenders, 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 put everything from early childhood through post-secondary education into one centrally planned system? I’m sure the Governor and the people he’ll appoint to the Oregon Education Investment Board are very smart people. But no such group can hope to design a system that meets the needs of every, or even most, Oregon children and their parents.
To better meet those needs, we should be going in the opposite direction. Find ways to push power down from the current systems toward teachers, and parents and students. Whatever funding the legislature appropriates to education, give the parents and students much more say in where, and how, it’s spent. Until you can move in that direction, the least you should do is reject this latest attempt to push the power even further away from the people who the system is supposed to help.
* John T. Wenders, Ph.D., “Deconsolidate Oregon’s School Districts,” Cascade Policy Institute, March 2005.