Teacher diversity bill raises layoff concerns
The Legislature is braking hard as Senate Republicans put down another procedural speed bump. Education policy committees are also tapping the brakes, but the House Rules Committee took up an issue important to schools Friday.
House Bill 2001 would emphasize teacher diversity during layoffs. The House Education Committee could not reach a consensus on the bill. At the urging of House Speaker Tina Kotek, the committee moved the bill to Rules, which does not face the same deadline limits.
OSBA and other education stakeholders have continued working on amending the bill, and it came up for a public hearing Friday. The latest amendment says school districts shall prioritize seniority with exceptions for cultural and linguistic expertise.
Kotek, chief sponsor of the bill, said the state and schools have made significant investments in diversifying the workforce in recent years and HB 2001 offers a contingency plan for layoffs.
“How do you retain those teachers who might have less seniority, but who are really essential to promoting the social and emotional learning and well-being of the students?" Kotek asked during testimony.
Kotek also said that legislators are not seeing layoffs “on the horizon.”
School leaders are telling legislators layoffs are coming, though, if the Legislature does not raise the State School Fund to $9.6 billion for 2021-23. HB 2001 could come into play in a matter of weeks.
The bill is scheduled for a possible committee vote Tuesday, May 4.
Elsewhere in the Capitol, education committees have only a few items a day as the Senate work gets bound up and the Legislature hits a natural lull in the second half of the session.
Earlier this session, House Republicans slowed bills’ progression by requiring each bill to be read fully on the floor before a vote. Some bills can take hours to read. House Democrats and Republicans struck a deal, and the renewed pace allowed sometimes dozens of votes a day.
Except for one Republican vote boycott, the Senate had been largely immune to these procedural delays.
On Wednesday, April 28, the same issue that spurred the first walkout raised its head again In response to Gov. Kate Brown’s continuing COVID-19 pandemic emergency actions, including moving multiple counties back to “extreme” risk level amid the ongoing surge in reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Senate Republicans called upon Senate Democrats to pass legislation to roll back Brown’s executive actions. Absent that legislation, they said, they will require that every bill be read fully on the Senate floor. Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod described the procedural ability to cause this slowdown as “an important tool to encourage bipartisan collaboration.”
Senate Democrats expressed frustration and a suspicion that other issues were contributing to Republicans’ stance.
“I suspect that Republican leadership may also be influenced by outside pressure over SB 554, the gun safety bill,” wrote Sen. Michael Dembrow in a newsletter.
“They don’t seem likely to walk out over this bill when it comes back to the Senate for concurrence next week, so this may be seen as an alternative.”
Senate Bill 554, which includes rules for gun storage and possession, would allow school boards to prohibit licensed guns on campuses. The amended bill passed the House on Thursday and must return to the Senate for a concurrence vote.
With policy committees quieting down, legislators and advocates will be focusing more on the state budget. The state’s economists will present an economic forecast May 19 that will give the final figures for state budget negotiations.
Education advocates will be looking for numbers to support a $9.6 billion State School Fund, which school business officials say is necessary to maintain current service levels in most schools.
Legislators’ early proposal of $9.1 billion would lead to staff and education time cuts, say school leaders.
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist