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Early start brings big topics
The legislative session is less than two weeks old, but education policy committees have wasted no time holding hearings on ambitious topics. Posted agendas give every reason to believe this will continue.
The Senate Education Committee devoted almost an entire hearing to Senate Bill 531, which will likely be the vehicle for a substantial investment in summer learning. Education advocates, including longtime OSBA partner OregonASK, testified about summer programs' value.
Before 2019, Oregon did not dedicate significant state funds to summer learning. The Student Success Act in 2019 and recent annual pandemic-inspired investments in summer learning have shifted the state’s attention.
The House Education Committee also tackled big topics, including the school funding calculation methodology and equity in facilities for students statewide.
Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, testified in favor of offering grants to Oregon communities that cannot secure local bond funding for facilities. Owens, who is also a Crane School Board member, said the state needs to make sure students across Oregon have quality places to learn.
It is not clear yet which of the two bills considered, House Bill 2257 or HB 3084, would move forward as the procedural vehicle. Given the enthusiasm in the hearing, though, there is hope for a collaborative discussion among legislators.
The school funding hearing on HB 2739 went into detail about how the state does the math behind “current service level” calculations. This is a longstanding challenge to OSBA members and other education stakeholders. Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard and a Tigard-Tualatin School Board member, described the need to adapt the process to allow input from education stakeholders to ensure public trust and get an accurate calculation to legislators for best decision-making.
Looking ahead, the ambitious topics will likely continue, including discussions on the way the corporate kicker funds public education and the methodology behind the Quality Education Model.
One minor note about a small OSBA priority. SB 271 would help make school district map creation a little easier. Currently, each county is responsible for storing boundary information for school districts. Because OSBA often provides maps for school board members and needs accurate boundary information, we drafted a bill.
SB 271 would have counties send boundary information to the state — one time only unless the boundaries change — where it can be more easily accessed by anyone. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously Thursday. Because of the bill’s timing, it’s likely it could be the first bill considered on the Senate floor this session. That does not have any procedural merit, but being first is a point of pride for advocates working in the Legislature.
If it feels odds to have so much legislative import in January, that’s because it is.
For much of this century, Oregon’s statutory start of the legislative long session was “the first day of February, unless the first day is a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, in which case the regular session begins on the following Monday.”
In practice, this allowed new legislators to be sworn in early in January, for legislative trainings for staff to occur for a month, and for all bills to be ready to go early in February. After the holiday season, this was a comfortable amount of time for all participants.
In 2018, SB 1542 changed the start date. Statute now directs the legislative session to begin on the Tuesday after the holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Legislative analysis from that time said an earlier start could compress the time to get ready for the session and lead to end-of-session complications with budget negotiations and bill finalizations. In 2019 and 2021, these complications were not apparent, but this year with a new governor and mostly new legislative leadership has felt chaotic.
Education advocates are still waiting on bills from state agencies, and everyone is trying to figure out how to navigate the hybrid hearing structure. Hopefully, this year’s end will be less complicated than the beginning.
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist