The short legislative session exists to deal with issues that can’t wait for the next long session. By that measure, Sen. Michael Dembrow considers the 2022 short session that ended Friday, March 4, a success.
Dembrow, D-Portland and the Senate Education Committee chair, was the driving force behind one of the most hard-fought bills in the education committees, a direct response to the sudden superintendent dismissals in the past year.
Senate Bill 1521 forbids school boards from firing a superintendent for following state or federal laws or rules that have the force of law. Such a requirement would seem unnecessary, but the state’s growing political schisms are leading to mini rebellions, pushing the need forward. Some of the bill’s deepest debates were over the definition of a law, repercussions for ignoring laws and whether to include city ordinances, which could conflict with each other.
OSBA collaborated with the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators to write the bill, at Dembrow’s request. The bill was swept up in debates about local control, but supporters emphasized that school boards will still be able to negotiate contract language and fire superintendents for egregious behavior or not meeting their contract requirements.
“I’m pleased we were able to come up with something that, though controversial, passed,” Dembrow said “and also engendered a lot of really important conversations around what does local control mean, what are limits to local control, what are the risks.”
The bill was declared an “emergency,” another bone of contention, and will go into effect as soon as Gov. Kate Brown signs it. The contract language requirements apply to deals signed after that date.
A look at some of the bills that did and did not make it through the 2022 Legislature shows a full-sized education agenda crammed into a compact-sized session. Contentious bills moved quickly, and some good policy got left behind.
“Your appetite is often bigger than the reality,” Dembrow said.
Among those was House Bill 4029, a companion response bill to the past year’s school board news. The bill would have required school boards and superintendents to assess themselves and receive training.
Although the bill had broad support, it failed for the second session in a row.
OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel said the bill ran into opposition over “local control” concerns and there wasn’t enough Democratic urgency to carry it.
OSBA considers training vitally important but is considering whether next steps to encourage training should go through the Legislature or another route, Sattenspiel said.
Another bill Sattenspiel said may have suffered from “too many good ideas, not enough time” was HB 4099. It would have created the Racial Equity and Justice Youth Collaborative, a council made up mostly of students to advise on state policy. Despite no vocal opposition, the idea was left behind for the second session in a row.
HB 4026 was more successful at carrying on last session’s work. With it, the Legislature fulfilled its promise to help school districts most hurt by enrollment losses after the 2020 wildfires. HB 4026 was one of OSBA’s priority bills. Starting with the 2021-22 school year, the bill guarantees the school districts’ funding through July 2025 based on their 2019-20 enrollments.
In another long-delayed OSBA priority, SB 1546 will decouple the Elliott State Forest from the Common School Fund. The Elliott was created in 1930 to provide revenue for the fund, but logging regulations limited its productivity and turned it into a liability. OSBA pressed for the forest to be sold to fulfill its purpose of generating money for public schools. SB 1546 turns the Elliott into a research forest and sets in motion the rest of a $221 million payment to the Common School Fund.
In the final days, the Legislature sprinted through dozens of bills, including some significant education bills.
HB 4030 is the Legislature’s primary school workforce shortage response. The bill allocates nearly $100 million to the Oregon Department of Education to award to school districts, education service districts and educational personnel membership organizations for recruiting and retaining education staff, including $20 million for training substitute teachers and instructional assistants.
HB 4114 requires school board members to file verified statements of economic interest with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Most Oregon elected officials already file the financial reports, but a secretary of state audit noticed the law overlooked school board members. School board members had mixed feelings about the bill, seeing the need for transparency but worrying the paperwork and the release of personal information such as addresses and phone numbers could deter candidates.
Some bills that would have increased scrutiny of school district operations fell by the wayside.
HB 4140 would have increased the Oregon Government Ethics Commission’s ability to enforce public meeting laws.
SB 1578 would have allowed the Oregon Department of Education to more quickly investigate parent allegations of students’ not receiving the education they are entitled to.
In the last week, the Legislature voted to spend billions of dollars on pet projects and statewide needs, including education. HB 5202’s $1.4 billion price tag includes a $150 million summer learning package. School districts will be able to get grants for summer K-8 enrichment activities and high school catch-up classes.
HB 5202 also has $120 million to move Portland Public Schools’ Harriet Tubman Middle School away from Interstate 5’s pollution.
A flurry of legislator news releases hailed the session as significant for supporting education.
“With the increased stress of the pandemic, we knew we had to take action to reduce teacher burnout and help address the shortages of teachers and substitute teachers,” Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said in a news release. Wagner is a former school board member. “By addressing these issues, we knew we could help schools stay open for in-person learning five days a week because it’s what’s best for kids and families.”
Sattenspiel said school board members were deeply involved all along the way with the session’s education bills.
“Between the tight deadlines and some really passionate and robust debate, it was a challenging session for education advocates,” Sattenspiel said. “We came out with some wins, but it was rough.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA