HB2301: Veto this bad bill & do online education right

T.A. Barnhart

Gov Kitzhaber needs to do what's right for Oregon public education & not what the Republicans demand. I offer an alternative to HB 2301 that will help us meet the goal of providing quality online education services to all Oregon students.

What baffles me is why after this bill was defeated, Rep Brian Clem felt the need to figure out a way to make it pass. It's not that important a bill, not one that needed that extra effort. It certainly was not a priority of his caucus; it was the Republicans who wanted this bill. Why did he suddenly have to carry their water? It's not like they were going to give him anything in return. And it's not like it was a well-written bill or a bill that had public support. Clem's actions make no sense, and it was disheartening to watch a representative I usually admire and support to do something so wrong. Particularly when he got so angry with a fellow Dem during the HB 2287 kerfuffle when a Dem tried to go behind the caucus' back.

T.A. Barnhart has been writing at Blue Oregon for nearly 6 years, and is wrapping up the Salem portion of The Action TAB, video reports from the 2011 Legislature; a project made possible by supporters at Kickstarter.com. This project will now expand to other areas; all reports can also be followed at Facebook.

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    How many more hearings do we need on online charter public schools? There was a commission in between sessions that took testimony from the public and from experts, looked at all the online charter schools in Oregon (there are many not just Connections Academy), looked at best practices in other states. I could only attend one of the hearings, but the hearings went on for several months. Sen. Bonamici was part of that commission, ask her about it if you can't find the videos of the hearings in the archives.

    A year or so ago I looked at the annual state test results at the elementary level here in Hillsboro for all 13 or so schools, and only two had better scores in reading and math than Connections Academy.

    And like all charter public schools, online charter public schools get less money per student than their non-charter counterpart. And that does not include the millions in property taxes that public school district get for school construction, none of which goes to charter schools, either online or brick-and-mortar.

    But for me, the fact that online charter public schools get better results for less money is not as important as the issue of choice in public education. The current enrollment limits mean that many students don't have the option of online public schools even if it would work better for them. The new higher enrollment limits would be a step in the direction of more choice for Oregon K-12 public school students.

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    Here's hoping for two vetoes from the Governor. Both HB 2301 and SB 817 pay too much for what we get.

    Virtual schools don't cost as much to run as brick and morter schools, they should be paid near cost, not exceedingly high profits. The bill needs more work and thus should be vetoed.

    Likewise, the state can loan money to businesses in low income communities with way, way less overhead than is in SB 817. It's really just a gift of high profits to the financial community.

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    What I like about T.A's post is that he is not just bashing this bill and online education, but offering a more thoughtful alternative to improve this bill. There is much to dislike about some of the recent bills, and while we need to be critical of them to point out what we don't like, I truly appreciate when people are willing to offer up solutions, too, and not just complaints.

    I also have concerns about the for-profit companies starting to have too much of a say in our public education. There is a conference coming up for private equity investors on how to make money in education that takes advantage of recent education reform efforts: http://www.capitalroundtable.com/masterclass/Capital-Roundtable-Private-Equity-Education-Conference-2011.html

    As a parent and education advocate, I want my voice and concerns heard and not overpowered by those with perhaps a for-profit agenda. As for a solution, I think us parents and community members really need to band together with a vision for strong, equitable public schools for all...we may not have PAC money, but we are stakeholders. I think we also need people to understand that just because we may not be on board with the "corporate reforms" doesn't mean we are maintainers of the "status quo." Let's move beyond those simple categories.

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      I took a look at this conference and for anyone left with any doubts that the "reform" movement" is not about big corporate profits, here is a quote from the webpage: "To serve as headmaster for this conference, we’re extremely pleased to welcome Daniel Black of The Wicks Group, a New York City based private equity firm that seeks to acquire and develop companies in selected segments of the information, education and media industries.

      Daniel is a Managing Partner at Wicks, and spends a substantial amount of his time sourcing and managing investments in the education industry."

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        should have read "...for anyone left with any doubts that the "reform" movement" is about big corporate profits..."

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    When the State Board of Education took up this question, it came out that some providers charged home schoolers substantially less to enroll in the same program than the state school fund would allocate to enroll them in a charter school, as in less than 1/4 as much. Sue, this is incorrect. The providers did indeed offer their curriculum and proprietary learning management system to home schoolers for substantially less per student than virtual charter schools spend, but it was for the program WITHOUT TEACHERS.

    Staffing expense is still a large part of a virtual charter school's budget. It is simply wrong to try to give the impression that virtuals in Oregon were charging substantially less for the same program.

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      That's not the whole story. Both models, with and without teachers, are offered to home schoolers, both at substantially lower cost than the state school fund calculation for schools.That's based both on testimony from home schooling parents and independent inquiries.

      There was a time when providers of virtual curriculum used potential cost savings from this delivery model as a selling point. Now they just want to absorb the difference.

      It should also be noted that these franchises typically cut costs by paying teachers part time, based on contact time with students, and that leads to turnover as licensed teachers seek a better professional environment.

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    Obviously the Governor cannot veto this bill. Cutting this deal enabled him to move the rest of his education agenda.

    I have no idea whether or not this bill will be good or bad public policy, but as someone who supports the Governor's efforts to reform education in this state, I am glad that Brian Clem and Chris Garrett helped to break up this potential logjam. Giving up 1 or 2 bills -- that even opponents like T.A. acknowledge are "not that important" -- to pick up wins on 10 other bills seems like a pretty good trade, particularly if it will help the governor continue to find bi-partisan support in other areas.


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