Historic legislative session added stable education funding, good policy bills
Senate Democrats wait during roll call Thursday to see if their Republican counterparts would show up. The Republican senators did not return until Saturday, allowing the Legislature to pass a flurry of bills and end the session Sunday. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Despite its acrimonious final days, the 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly ended Sunday as an unprecedented regular session success for education advocates.
“We will never see a session like this again with education in the spotlight,” said OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel, who has fought for K-12 education for nearly 20 years.
The Student Success Act’s $1 billion-a-year infusion into education starts to address funding problems that have plagued Oregon schools for decades, adding much-needed support from a stable tax source. The Legislature also passed some cost containment and didn’t add any major unfunded mandates.
Senate Republicans, opposed to a new business tax, disappeared from the Capitol in early May to deny the chamber a quorum to vote on the Student Success Act. Democrats coaxed the Republicans back with a deal to kill bills on gun regulation and vaccines, and the act passed on a party-line vote.
By the time Republican senators walked out again June 20, most of the important education-related bills had already passed.
Sattenspiel said there just weren’t a lot of bad bills for schools this session.
“Legislators were so focused on the Student Success Fund that they were really thinking about how to help kids,” she said.
The Confederation of Oregon School Administrators’ Morgan Allen agreed that legislators were focused on the needs of students, from school lunches to social and emotional health issues. The deputy executive director of policy and advocacy said this session’s policy bills were reasonable and supported by schools.
Allen has spent more than 20 years in the Capitol, and he said it was hands-down the best session for K-12 education he has seen.
“The Legislature addressed funding, revenue reform, cost containment,” he said. “Those are the biggest ticket items on the list.”
Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, said passing the Student Success Act was satisfying because it ran the gamut of education issues, from early learning to mental health to class sizes to career and technical education funding.
Piluso, a Gresham-Barlow School Board member, said the focus on student needs laid a foundation for additional education success.
“It just seems to me that we now have the right process in place to make good things happen,” she said.
Jim Moore, the director of Pacific University’s Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation, said that revenue for education clearly dominated legislative discussions. He said the Student Success Act was the first time the Legislature has dealt with the fallout from 1990’s Measure 5, which limited local property tax support for schools. The State School Fund supplies about two-thirds of school funding.
“It is a step toward the state actually asserting its responsibility for what K-12 truly needs,” he said.
Moore pointed out that although the Student Success Act’s tax portion required a Democratic supermajority to pass, much of the education work this session was done with broad, bipartisan support. Here is a look at some of the 2019 session’s key education bills.
The big wins
- Student Success Act (HB 3427): The Joint Committee on Student Success crafted a historic investment in education, giving schools resources to make significant improvements to benefit students. A new business tax is expected to generate $1 billion a biennium for grants for districts and an additional $1 billion a biennium for early learning and statewide initiatives, including fully funding Measure 98 for career and technical education, college readiness and dropout prevention. The Student Success Act may still require voter approval if a ballot referral initiative gains enough signatures.
- PERS reform (SB 1049): Hard-fought changes to the Public Employees Retirement System will lower average employer rates an estimated 5.43 percentage points starting in 2021-23. Most of the savings comes from lengthening the debt payback time, but the bill also included benefit cuts opposed by union members.
- State School Fund (HB 5016): With so much energy focused on the Student Success Act, the State School Fund sailed through with little fanfare. The Legislature approved $9 billion for the next biennium. The $800 million increase is enough for most school districts to maintain current service levels.
- Adi’s Act (SB 52): Student mental health and suicide prevention were a major focus of the 2019 Legislature, as the public became more aware of the social and emotional issues schools must face every day. Adi’s Act was named after Adi Staub, a transgender Portland student who killed herself in 2017. The bill requires districts to adopt suicide prevention policies.
- Sexual harassment reporting (HB 3077): The law clarifies the definition of harassment and modifies the reporting and investigations process. OSBA helped add amendments that make the bill’s goals workable for school districts.
- Opioid overdose treatment (SB 665): OSBA helped bring this bill because Tillamook School Board member Nick Troxel saw a hurdle to schools rapidly addressing drug overdoses. This law allows schools to store and administer naloxone, an anti-opioid overdose spray, or similar medications.
- Confidential executive sessions (HB 2514): School districts asked for a change to align Oregon law with federal law on student privacy and media access to school board executive sessions. Now school boards can exclude reporters from executive sessions that involve student-specific confidential information.
- Health insurance cost containment (HB 2266): OSBA teamed up with public worker unions to reinstate rules that allowed workers to be double-covered under the Public Employees’ Benefit Board and the Oregon Educators Benefit Board or to opt out for compensation. The opt-out provision saves school districts money and increases compensation packages for workers.
- Employee misconduct (SB 155): This law requires all reports of abuse or sexual misconduct by school employees to be investigated and reported to the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission. It also prevents school employees from helping employees suspected of misbehavior find a new job at another school.
- Mandatory reporters (SB 415): School board members were added to the list of mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse.
- Student restraints (SB 963): The new law clarifies rules around restraining students or removing them from classrooms when their behavior is disruptive or dangerous. It also adds district reporting requirements.
- Youth Suicide Prevention and Intervention Committee (SB 707): The law creates a committee to advise the Oregon Health Authority on suicide intervention and prevention for youths ages 10 to 24.
- Interscholastic activities policies (HB 3409): The law prohibits school districts from joining interscholastic organizations, such as the Oregon School Activities Association, that don’t have policies to address the use of derogatory or inappropriate behavior at activities.
- School board elections (HB 3310): The law requires equal opportunities for people from protected classes to run in school board elections and creates a complaint process to change unfair systems.
- Student Success Act ballot referral date (SB 116): If a ballot referendum challenges the Student Success Act, the special election will be held in January 2020, giving the state time to settle the law and still collect taxes in time for the 2020-21 school year.
House Bill 2016, the “Janus fix,” adds provisions to the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act that had been subject to local negotiations, including leave time, access to employees and dues collection. The bill was unions’ response to the Supreme Court Janus decision that curbed unions’ ability to collect fees from nonunion workers. OSBA opposed the bill on the grounds that it was a one-size-fits-all bill for issues that should be decided locally.