Class size bill finding its way despite renewed focus on equity concerns
Monday, May 17, 2021
Every year since 2017, OSBA has worked against bills advanced by the Oregon Education Association to require that class size be added to the list of mandatory bargaining subjects between school districts and educators. This year a clear path has appeared for the bill’s legislative approval, even with heightened attention to the bill’s potential negative impacts to students and school districts.
Senate Bill 580 is scheduled for a House committee hearing Wednesday and a vote next week. With the bill having already passed the Senate, time is running out for school leaders to voice their opposition.
OSBA’s Legislative Services offers advocacy resources to oppose the bill, including help finding your legislator. Concerned individuals can also track the bill’s progress and contact lawmakers through the Legislature’s website.
The Oregonian examined the potential impacts of SB 580, looking at the experience of Portland Public Schools. PPS negotiated a class size “overage” payment structure into the contract with educators in 2018.
The data from Portland is striking. In the years since bargaining class-size overage payments into the contract, PPS has paid about $2.5 million extra to educators. Of that $2.5 million, $1.8 million went to educators in schools attended by the top 25% historically best-served students in the district.
During that same period, only $11,005 went to educators in schools serving the bottom 25%.
The PPS example demonstrates that the push to class-size equality could come at the cost of equity.
SB 580 passed the Senate Education Committee on a partisan 3-2 vote and the full Senate 17-11. It now awaits action in the House Business and Labor Committee, where six of the 11 members voted for the 2018 version of the bill.
This is all unfolding against a backdrop of heightened social awareness of race issues and a disagreement between the Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown about race, equity and school funding.
Last week, the Legislature endorsed a $9.3 billion State School Fund allocation. In a blistering letter criticizing the state schools budget, Brown told House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney that she could not support funding a “school system built on a foundation of Oregon’s history of racism,” furthermore saying legislators, “may be willing to wait another two years to make equitable reforms — to yet again promise to communities of color that we’ll get it right ‘next time.’ I am not.”
School leaders have a compelling argument if they can show how this class size bill hurts historically underserved students without promising any real benefits for the Oregon education system.