Much-improved bill creating school district equity committees moves forward
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Legislators, working with education advocates, have taken a well-intentioned equity effort and turned it into a workable bill.
Senate Bill 732A, which cleared its committee Thursday, would require every school district to create an equity advisory committee. The bill emphasizes local control, stems from a school district best practice and stands to move the equity conversation forward at the district level.
The bill is rooted in the pioneering efforts of a few local school districts, most notably Lake Oswego.
Lake Oswego formed an equity advisory committee in 2018 in response to racist incidents at its schools.
Sen. Rob Wagner, a former Lake Oswego School Board chair, was one of the driving forces behind the bill, and Neelam Gupta, a former committee member and current Lake Oswego board member, supported the bill.
The committee was “an opportunity for the community to come together,” according to testimony Wagner supplied last week for the House Education Committee. “Over 90 people applied for the committee.”
Committee work included creating a board resolution condemning racism and committing to anti-racism efforts, partnering with community organizations to organize local equity summits and supporting the creation of equity action teams in the schools.
“Our superintendent has stated that work of inclusivity, equity, diversity, access and belonging is the most important work we are doing in LOSD, especially during this time of heightened awareness of the impacts of systemic racism,” Gupta testified. “The equity committee has been a critical advisory body to the school board in that work.”
With input from OSBA and the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, amendments have helped embed in the bill’s text the importance of local control. Initial drafts carried cumbersome requirements, including public meeting and reporting rules.
The version that will likely be voted on in the House this week does not include those elements. The bill says districts with 10,000 or more students must have an equity advisory committee by 2022. All other districts have until 2025.
The committee will be tasked with advising on the educational equity impacts of policy decisions and sharing when situations can negatively affect underrepresented students. The makeup, reporting duties and scope of the committee are left to local decision-makers.
OSBA and COSA both testified in support of the amended measure, because the bill addresses the statewide equity challenge with a local approach.
COSA Deputy Executive Director of Policy and Advocacy Morgan Allen told committee members that a similar COSA committee led to “getting insights from our members of color” and “has been one of the most beneficial things … at COSA that we've done.”