What’s the Panic? There’s No Need to Rush and Shut Out the Public on Last-Minute Bills

What’s the Panic? There’s No Need to Rush and Shut Out the Public on Last-Minute Bills

By Scott Moore of Portland, Oregon. Scott is communications director for Our Oregon.

Let’s face it: Oregon voters are extremely cynical about the state legislature, and the kind of frantic horse-trading happening right now over the “education package” is exactly what makes them that way.

Despite little to no opportunity for public input, legislators are expected to vote on these either Monday or Tuesday.

The public was shut out of the process, but legislators can still do the right thing for Oregon students by voting no on the bad bills and telling their colleagues to come back with more sunshine in February.

By cutting these deals behind closed doors, and by letting Rep. Matt Wingard lead the charge on bills that will line his own pockets, legislators are playing up the worst beliefs that citizens have about the legislative process.

What’s worse, Oregonians last year voted to move to annual legislative sessions as a way of increasing transparency, accountability, and public process in state government. And how are some legislators honoring that historic vote? By ramming through several education bills that will have far-reaching impacts on Oregon kids, all negotiated by a small handful of lawmakers behind closed doors with little or no public input. Thanks a lot, Salem.

Here are just a few examples of sweeping bills that are being pushed forward without the public (the first three are Wingard’s pet projects):

HB 2301: Expands virtual charter schools (aka the “Matt Wingard is Getting a Fat Bonus this Year” Bill)—A similar, failed bill had testimony in February, but the current version of the bill, with significant amendments, has never been discussed in a public forum. In fact, the latest amendments to the bill weren’t even posted online before the committee rushed to move it to the floor.

HB 3645: Multiple authorizers for charter schools (adamantly opposed by the Community Colleges, who can’t afford the additional burden and financial responsibility of charter schools)—This has never had a public hearing. There have been 12 amendments drafted to the bill and none were ever discussed publicly.

HB 3681: Inter-District Transfers—A bill that could fundamentally reshape the face of Oregon’s K-12 system, this has had a whopping 30 minutes of public testimony. None of the current amendments have been discussed in a public forum.

SB 250: Opting out of ESDs—The current version of this bill is changed from the one originally agreed to by educators, parents, and school leaders and worked on months ago in public hearings. Since March 30, 18 amendments have been drafted without a single moment afforded for public comment.

There’s no need to rush through these bills in the closing days of the legislative session. There’s no emergency, and no reason to panic. Because of annual sessions, there is another chance to get these bills right—with adequate public input—in the next session, which is literally just months away.

So why are some legislators in a rush to vote on these bills and keep the public in the dark? We know why Wingard wants to hurry—his package of bills will be a boon to his employer, the for-profit online charter school Connections Academy, and he’d rather not have to talk about that bit of financial self-dealing. But why are so many other legislators scrambling to prove that their biggest detractors were right all along?

All of the “education bills” will be voted on either Monday or Tuesday. Legislators should vote no on Matt Wingard’s self-serving agenda (HB 2301, HB 3645, HB 3681) and no on SB 250. If they’re really that important, their supporters can bring them back in February and at least pretend to care what the public thinks.

Want to send your legislator a message about these bills? Click here to send an email or call 1-800-332-2313 to be connected to them.

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    I agree with your proposition that there should be more transparency in this end-of-session, deal-making process.

    I also agree that HB 2301 (as I last knew it) is a bad bill and deserves “no” votes. I object to the non-virtual charter schools parts of the bill. It seems to me like an effort by teacher unions and associates to hijack part-time online education in Oregon. It would set online education back a decade in Oregon (see my blog post here).

    I’ve generally no problems with the basic concepts of HB 3645 (yes to more charter schools), HB 3681 (yes to inter-district transfers, what’s the big deal?), and SB 250 (opting out of ESD’s, makes economic sense to me). These very small reforms make sense to me and would benefit students. And they’ve been discussed all session.

    But, as regular readers know, I’m not happy with public education in Oregon. I’d not support one dime more for education until at least $30,000 is allocated to send five high school students to China for the 2012-13 school year (it won’t happen because the teacher unions oppose it. So much for peace efforts).

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    For the record, there were three public hearings on interdistrict transfer bills this session:

    House Education Committee - March 9 (HB3550)

    Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee - March 10 (SB745)

    House Rules Committee - June 2 (HB3681)

    An additional public hearing and work session scheduled on April 12 for SB745 was canceled at the request of a group of lobbyists, despite a vote count that showed a majority of Senators supported the bill.

    In addition, stakeholders and opposition alike were contacted by supporters for input over the past two years while SB745 was developed (HB3681 was nearly identical).

    The idea of improving access to interdistrict transfers is not new.

    I hope people will use the numbers above to contact their state legislators in SUPPORT of HB3681. It is time to end the patchwork of interdistrict transfer policies that exist and provide equity for students throughout Oregon.

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    EMERGENCY! At the head of this list should be SB 817, which has a deceptive title about low income. It is in fact a $78 million tax giveaway to private business that was unexpectedly passed out by the joint tax comm. It will give away $78 million in "loans." For a more rational, less angry analysis that this, please see the Tax Fairness Oregon website. The Senate may try to rush this through tomorrow (Mon). Please ask your senator to stop it.

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    i have a detailed video on HB 3645 coming online soon, but here's some of the pertinent facts:

    • this is HB 2287 with a few minor changes. 2287 was defeated in March, 28-37, and since that point, Wingard has been a destructive force on the Education Ctte.

    • under 3645, a non-profit with a "k-12 mission" can approve charters. the ramifications of this aspect are staggering. McCharter's, welcome to Oregon.

    • Wingard, Parrish & others complain how few charters there are in Oregon. yes: starting a charter is appropriately challenging. and since there is no money in the venture, charters are started by parents & educators who are dedicated to the kids. that would change under 3645 when charters can become corporate endeavors.

    why Wingard has not been reported to the Ethics Commission yet is beyond me. his work in the Leg this session has been insider trading of the worst kind. if the Leg passes this POS, then shame on them all. i convinced they will not.

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    The A-Engrossed version of HB 2301 (see here) no longer has the provisions relating to part-time online education that I objected to. I’d now be a yes vote. We need more online education opportunities.

    The true scandal here is not Rep. Wingard but the failure of the public education system in Oregon to pursue the expanded opportunities (think, for example, of Mandarin available online to all high school students in Oregon) and cost reductions (online course can reduce instructional cost by one-half for some students) of online education.

    At issue, of course, are teacher jobs. More online education would reduce and redirect them (that’s how the cost reducing efficiencies occur). Studies have shown that online learning can be as effective as traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms for students to reach educational outcomes. So we really don’t need to have teachers continuing to featherbed our educational system just because they don’t want a change in educational technology.

    Right now, IMHO, teacher unions are opposing (and shame on them) the two big transformations we need to make in education for the 21st century. We need to infuse our education system with technology and open up to all the opportunities that creates. And we need to globalize the curriculum (more foreign language opportunities, high school study abroad) so that more of our graduates are prepared for the global challenges ahead. On both these issues, our teacher unions are behaving like modern day Luddites (see here). They are not putting the interests of students first.

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      As much as you dislike the OEA (and yes, I am a Board Director), we are actually supporting ideas that have proven to work. Those proposals have data to back up our support. HB 3362 is one of those bills that shows data where students who complete at least two years in a CTE program will have a 97% graduation rate, have the tools they need to move on after high school to be better successful either in college, apprenticeships, or in the trades.

      I appreciate your passion for having additional opportunities for students. We all want that. But, right now, we don't even have enough funding to keep the basics. If you don't believe me, I'll invite you into my school district.

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    • this is HB 2287 with a few minor changes.

    How can you say this? These two bills are entirely different. They don't even deal with the same topics.

    Tell me, did you read both bills? And you concluded that they were similar?

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