Tuesday, August 02, 2005

End of Session Deal Might Kill Virtual School Before it Starts

We are days away from Sine Die, and this is riskiest of times.

This is the time that any and every bad bill that has been introduced all session long is possible trade fodder - as long as the Democrat or Republican leadership wants it bad enough to make it part of what they negotiate to get out of the building.

I'm in the middle of one of the sorry bills that seems to be part of this session's end game.

Background: You may have read about Scio School District's virtual charter school, which is ready to open this fall. I helped steer the school through the approval process. It has already enrolled 270 of its planned 500 kids for this fall, and it will serve as many as 3000 kids in a few years. It is truly innovative - they have figured out how to marry technology and education in a way no other school in Oregon has even contemplated.

But Speaker Karen Minnis apears to have agreed to an end-of-session deal in a trade with the teachers union that would kill this virtual charter school before it ever opens, leaving the 270 children who have enrolled in the lurch.

Here's the deal: Senate Bill 1071 authorizes the state to start its own virtual school. Ok, no real problem with that. But it also contains a poison pill for virtual charter schools such as the Scio school: the bill says they must get 50% of their students from inside the district boundaries.

Obviously this is an untenable requirement for a virtual charter school. The whole point is that on-line courses allow students to enroll no matter where they live.

So I wrote amendments to the bill that removed the offending provisions. Today, the bill came up in committee. Right before the hearing we got word that the bill was to be passed without the amendments, because it was part of an end of session deal by the Speaker.

A deal that would kill the only on-line charter school in Oregon and give the state a "virtual" monopoly on virtual schools.

Rep. Linda Flores wrangled a temporary reprieve that got the bill sent (with my amendments) to the budget committee. But nothing prevents the amendments from being removed in Budget committee, and if the OEA deal is to stand, that is precisely what will happen. Perhaps tomorrow.

To give Speaker Missin the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she did not know the ramifications of the "deal," she made, and now that she does, she will realize it is the wrong thing to do.

What will she do on Wednesday? Will she keep the deal with the OEA that kills the only statewide virtual charter school before it can even open? Will she let stand the provision that gives that state a monopoly over on-line courses in Oregon?

Or will she realize that the deal is a mistake and she can't send the 270 children in the Scio virtual charter school packing so she can gavel down sine die?

Stay Tuned.

No comments: