Testimony of Matt Wingard In Support of HB 3010

Matt WingardMy name is Matt Wingard and I appreciate the opportunity to testify in support of HB 3010. I am Director of the School Choice Project for Cascade Policy Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan policy research center based in Portland. Cascade works to advance individual liberty, economic opportunity, and personal responsibility.

House Bill 3010 is the product of an 18-month outreach effort in the North and Northeast Portland minority communities. In September, 2005 we began hosting monthly meetings in Northeast Portland to hear the concerns of parents and students in and around the Jefferson High School Cluster. We spent many hours listening to longtime residents and former Jefferson High School students recount the many protests and reform efforts undertaken at their neighborhood schools.

After many hours of dialogue, Cascade decided to detail the history of reform efforts at Jefferson. In April, 2006 we released that report entitled Leaving Most Children Behind: 30 Years of Education Reform at Jefferson. I have brought copies of our report for each member of the committee. Our report does not proscribe solutions, but instead attempts simply to document the cycle of reform that has been taking place without significant results. We have received a strong positive reaction to this report, mostly because no one had put into one, concise, 14-page report what residents knew they had experienced since the 1970s. Among the findings in the report:

  • Nearly eighty percent of all 10th graders, consistently test below state standards in reading or math.
  • Money for the besieged Jefferson Cluster is apparently not the problem. Schools in the system, which include Humboldt Elementary, Whitaker Middle School and Harriet Tubman Middle School, received more funding from Portland Public Schools and enjoyed smaller class sizes than other District schools.
  • In 1995-96, Humboldt received about 33 percent more money per student than the District average for elementary schools. In 1997-98, Jefferson received about $1,300 more per student than the District average for high schools and had the smallest class sizes. That year, the report states, 93 percent of Jefferson’s 10th graders failed state math and reading tests.
  • The report points out that the total revenue available to the Portland Public School District has grown almost six-fold over the past 30 years. “At the same time, the number of students served has dropped by 27 percent. This dramatic increase in funding has had no impact on overall test scores in the Jefferson Cluster.

From my experience talking with hundreds of parents, students and community activists I have concluded that a high level of fatigue and cynicism exists within the minority communities in Portland about the current delivery system of publicly funded education. At the same time, community members are desperate to get access to quality educational options for their children. Parents want more control over their lives and their children’s education. They know something is wrong, but they’re not sure about the answer.

The relative lack of ethnic diversity in Oregon has left many of the African-Americans I talk to in Portland, for instance, feeling politically irrelevant. They don’t believe they have a large enough community to be sincerely heard in this state.

From our conversations with low-income minority parents in Portland we know they have a strong desire to be involved in their child’s education because they recognize it as the key to escaping poverty. We believe the best way to give them that control is by putting them on an even playing field with the education system—a system they often feel ignores them. Low-income parents need the power to choose their child’s school both to get them personally invested in their child’s education and to force the system to supply schools the parents want—not schools the system wants them to have.

HB 3010 is a pilot project designed to answer the question: Do low-income parents want to take control of their child’s education and do they want access to school choices outside of what they are being offered today? If the current system is meeting their needs, they will not sign up for this program. If they do sign up, then as policy makers, we must ask ourselves why, and the publicly-funded education system must respond to their needs.

After all, low-income parents have the most limited choices in today’s education system. They cannot afford private school, even if they may desire it, and they cannot afford to move into the neighborhoods with the best performing public schools. Being low-income should not limit your child’s educational choices. One could argue that low-income parents are precisely the people who need the most varied educational choices for their children.

I am attaching a FACT SHEET about HB 3010 that highlights the major aspects of the pilot project. I hope you will give this program serious consideration and place the needs and desires of parents and students ahead of those being expressed by the adults running the public education system. I hope that we can all agree that no one should be forced to attend a school that isn’t meeting their needs, just because they can’t afford another option.

HB 3010 is a starting point for a discussion about how to give low-income parents in Portland more control over their child’s future. We stand ready to work with any legislator to craft a better pilot program and move this vital piece of legislation forward.

Thank you for your consideration.

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