Class-size bill amendments address OSBA, COSA equity concerns
A last-minute amendment has made a long-fought class-size bill more palatable for school leaders.
On Wednesday, May 19, the House Business and Labor Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 580, which would make class size a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. Teachers would be able to negotiate pay considerations when schools couldn't lower class sizes because of space, scheduling or budget limits.
The Oregon Education Association has championed similar bills every year since at least 2017, saying average class sizes in Oregon are too high. OSBA and the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators have opposed the bills. School leaders agree class sizes are too high but say the bill would only raise staff costs without any beneficial effect for students.
This year, education advocates also pointed out that the class-size bill prioritized equality over equity, contrary to the recent emphasis by the Legislature and education leaders on offering additional support to students who have been historically underserved. An analysis of Portland Public Schools showed its payments to teachers for overly large classes disproportionately flowed to the schools serving the most well-to-do students.
Before the hearing, SB 580 seemed to have a clear path through the Legislature, but the equity argument appears to have taken root.
In the opening testimony on the bill, House Speaker Tina Kotek presented an amendment to narrow the current bill to make class size a mandatory bargaining subject only at Title I schools.
A school receives the Title I designation from the federal government when a large percentage of the community qualifies as low income.
Title I schools generally serve the neediest students and receive extra funding from the federal government.
“I'm proposing this amendment,” Kotek said, “for two reasons. One, I think it will prioritize the conversations focused on schools with the most need. Secondly, it will require conversations in bargaining on how to provide relief to teachers and educators...that support students in special education, speech language pathology, counseling and other specialties.”
It is a little unusual for the House speaker to amend a bill that has already cleared the Senate and has broad House support.
Kotek pointed to “a lot of coverage recently about stipends for classroom or caseload overages.”
A recent article by The Oregonian/OregonLive highlighted the same message OSBA presented in earlier testimony: The best data available from Oregon indicate that these bargained teacher pay policies move money to educators overwhelmingly in the traditionally best-resourced schools.
Kotek said that she does not think that class-size payments are the most effective structure to help students but they are a byproduct of the lack of bargaining conversations on class size. She said she could support such bargaining with a focus on Title I schools.
Jared Mason-Gere, testifying on behalf of OEA, expressed a desire for the base bill but acknowledged OEA “would support” the speaker’s amendments if that was the bill’s only way forward. It is scheduled for a committee vote Monday, May 24, when the committee can incorporate the new amendments.
If passed, it would go to the full House and then back to the Senate for a concurrence vote because the bill was changed.
OSBA and COSA legislative teams have worked hard for years to create a bill that serves the best interest of students without setting up unsustainable budgets or possible strikes. OSBA and COSA support SB 580 with Kotek’s amendments.
The amendments are “a much more appropriate response” to teachers’ class-size concerns, said Morgan Allen, COSA deputy executive director of policy and advocacy. He said the revised bill would address many of school leaders’ equity concerns.
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist