Education issues create heat, if not headlines
The short session started full speed ahead Monday, Feb. 3. Hot-topic issues of climate change and gun control grabbed the headlines, but education issues have been active as well.
Senate Bill 1522 is a consensus bill drafted by OSBA and a number of other education stakeholder groups, including the Oregon Education Association, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and the Oregon School Employees Association. A successor bill to SB 155 from 2019, it would make necessary changes to allow information sharing by the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission for cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct by school district employees.
A hearing Tuesday, Feb. 4, was contentious, and lawmakers raised questions about provisions permitting some kinds of adult contacts. OSBA and the other stakeholders revised the bill and seem to have arrived at amendments that will address the committee’s concerns.
The bill’s broad “relating to” cause made it the vehicle for some necessary statutory adjustments to education topics unrelated to sexual misconduct, adding pressure to make sure it passes. The bill is scheduled for a work session Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Another bill of note is SB 1572. Since 2007, Oregon students must complete both a credit requirement and an Essential Skills requirement to graduate with a diploma. Most students complete the Essential Skills requirement by achieving a required minimum score on the Smarter Balanced standardized test. There are other ways to demonstrate Essential Skills, including a portfolio option.
SB 1572 would eliminate the Essential Skills requirement. Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, chief sponsor of the bill, has said that the Essential Skills requirement is an anachronism that unnecessarily keeps some students from graduating. His testimony says that SB 1572 “repeals a relic that no longer works.”
Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, expressed concern with the bill’s effects, citing potential inconsistencies in credit standards between school districts and the potential to move out of compliance with federal education law.
In a tense hearing Thursday, Feb. 6, Sen. Rob Wagner, chair of both the Senate Education Committee and the Lake Oswego School Board, disagreed with Gill. He pushed Gill on ODE’s interpretation of federal requirements. Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, also asked Gill what sorts of changes the bill would need to “thread the needle” and adhere to federal law while still removing the Essential Skills requirement.
OSBA has worked for a number of bills that could benefit school districts and students. Legislation we support include a bill to fund services for unaccompanied homeless youths (HB 4039), a bill to return students to a learning environment appropriately after brain injury (HB 4140), a bill to create a statewide plan for computer programming course access (HB 4098), and a bill to increase funding for “activity bus” school transportation services (HB 4136).
The session’s compressed timelines mean that on Friday, Feb. 7, we passed the deadline to post agendas containing bills that can be voted on and moved by committees. The field has already narrowed significantly, but important pieces of legislation remain in play.
In another fast-moving piece of news, former Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, dropped out of the race for secretary of state Monday. She emailed supporters that “a story currently being pushed in the media” that “is designed to question my use of campaign funds and unfairly attack my integrity” had prompted her to suspend her campaign. The Willamette Week published its story online Monday. The story said Williamson's campaign spending was "highly unusual" but did not appear to be illegal.
State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton; Jamie McLeod-Skinner; and Cameron Smith are the remaining Democratic candidates, and state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, is seeking to be the Republican nominee.
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist