The Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee heard three charter bills this week, House Bill 2150, House Bill 2875 and House Bill 3093. The committee chaired by Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) had several questions on each of the bills and asked for some amendments to be drafted for discussion at a future meeting.
The first bill was HB 2150, a product of a process OSBA initiated to review Oregon’s charter school laws in response to requests from districts, charter school advocates and agencies to assess the law on its 10-year anniversary in 2010. The OSBA Charter Review Committee was a work group with representatives of public schools, charter schools, the Oregon Department of Education, the Legislature, education associations, parents, teachers and others.
OSBA Legislative Specialist Lori Sattenspiel testified in support of HB 2150, and brought forward an amendment that would exempt a charter district (a district consisting of a single school) from being required to have two separate boards when the school and district operate as one. This amendment addressed the difficulty in filling two separate boards from a single small community, which is typical of most charter districts. The committee understood the issue behind the amendment.
The other amendment on HB 2150, drafted by the NW Center for Education Options, would exempt charter schools from having to follow public contracting laws. Under current law all public entities must follow public contracting laws, a policy OSBA supports as it holds agencies accountable for public spending. The committee discussed at length, but closed the hearing without voting on either amendment.
The second bill, HB 2875, was sponsored by Rep. Julie Parrish (R-Tualatin/West Linn). Rep. Parrish testified before the committee in support of the bill, which would allow a charter school’s current contract to remain in effect until a new contract has been negotiated. Under current law, the board votes to renew the charter school, then negotiations begin on the new contract. If both parties can’t reach agreement the district can decide to “not renew.” There has never been a case of this type of contract negotiation not coming to agreement during a renewal process. Typically when negotiations are stalled, the district and charter mutually agree to extend the current contract for another 90 days to allow both parties to continue the negotiation process. The committee did not take action on this bill.
The final charter bill was HB 3093, which would allow a sponsor to terminate a charter school for failure to provide its audit to the sponsor. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard), gave opening comments that spurred the committee to ask several questions about the current audit process for districts and charter schools.
The discussion surrounded the ability of a sponsor to terminate a charter when a school district has failed to produce its audit in a timely manner and the school is not closed. Current statute allows the Oregon Department of Education to hold districts accountable for getting these audits in on time by withholding the state school fund allotment until the audit has been turned in.
The department noted that the audits are due in December. To date, two districts and 57 charter schools have not turned in their audits.
The committee continued to discuss accountability and ultimately decided that a small workgroup would meet to formulate an amendment to bring back to the committee.
Contact Lori Sattenspiel, OSBA legislative specialist, if you have questions about any of these three bills.