Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oregon Department of Education again tries to kill Connections Academy

What do educrats and teachers unions hate more than anything? A successful school they do not control.

That explains why the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) is for the second time trying to kill the Oregon Connections Academy charter school. (ORCA) The Oregonian and others wrote about it yesterday.

Here's the background:

In 2005, I helped the Scio School District establish the first virtual charter school in the state. The program is innovative - it is a home based charter school that is a great option for kids who for whatever reason don't respond well to a traditional classroom-based school.

Before the school could even open, the ODE tried to kill it by sponsoring SB1071 in the 2005 legislature. The bill did two things: 1) It required any virtual charter school to get half its kids from inside the sponsoring school district, which would have killed ORCA immediately; and 2) it gave the ODE $2 million to start its own virtual school!

Well, we barely survived the attack. We couldn't stop the bill, but we got the legislative record to establish that the legislature voted for it with the understanding that ORCA would be grandfathered, since it was approved before the bill passed.

One wonders why the ODE needed $2 million to do what tiny Scio School District was able to do for nothing. Staffers at ODE were never required to answer that simple question - the bill passed only because it became part of the end of session package.

So ORCA opened in the fall of 2005 with 700 students from all over the state. They had so many applications that they closed the enrollment. This school year they opened with 1200 students.

I knew at the time it would only be a matter of time before they tried again to kill ORCA. They simply cannot allow something as large and threatening as a virtual charter school that doesn't use unionized teachers and has an education model dramatically different from the rest of the schools to survive.

Sure enough, last week they made their move. On the day that school was set to begin, ORCA received a letter from the ODE that notified them thet state was freezing their funds because their application process, according to the state, was illegal according to Oregon's charter law.

The state had an advisory letter from the Attorney General's office that took issue with ORCA's requirement that each child have a "Learning Coach," who is responsible for certain oversight functions for the student. The state's position is that this requirement constitutes discrimination, since not all families are "willing or able" to provide the Learning Coach.

This opinion is patently ridiculous, because by the same "logic," a charter school couldn't require a family to provide transportation to the school, because some families would not be "willing and able" to drive long distances to attend. So to comply with the AG's advice, a charter would have to provide transportation to any student in the state who wants to go to the school. Absurd.

All the bureaucrats at the ODE are saying that they are sure this issue can be "worked out," and they are not trying close down ORCA, only make sure it follows the law.

Yeah sure. And I suppose that SB 1071 wasn't really an attempt to close the school either, right? We are supposed to believe that they are operating in good faith when they unilaterally decide that an enrollment criteria that has existed for more than a year is not legal, then they shut off funding the day school starts for 1200 students, with total disregard for the effect their action would have on the kids?

These people are our state education officials! It is simply astounding how little they actually care about the kids they are supposedly in charge of serving.

And I love their objection: ORCA requires parent involvement! I thought they LIKED parent involvement! I guess not if they can use it as a basis to harrass a school they want to kill.

Unbelievable. We will fight this, because we have to send a signal to every bureaucrat that they are not going to get away with pulling this kind of crap.


rickyragg said...

The best example yet of what really matters to the educrat class - threats to their monopoly on state funds for education.

Whatever may be the truth about unionized educators (their dedication, motivation, etc.) - their tacit support of the group of selfish thugs that run the education establishment in Oregon damns them all.

It's not enough to disagree quietly.

Anonymous said...


I do not work for ODE or OEA and I do not think that ORCA should be "shut down." However, please allow me to challenge some of your information:

1. There is NO record that the Legislature "grandfathered" ORCA in or otherwise exempted it from the SB 1071 requirement that 50% of students in charter schools offering any online courses must reside within the sponsoring district's boundaries. No one has tried to enforce that law with ORCA, but it does apply. If you believe there IS such a record, please post the link to an official source.

2. The goal of SB 1071 was for ODE to get $2 (and the driver behind that has recently left ODE); the 50% provision was a compromise, meaning some Legislators would only vote for 1071 if it contained the 50% provision.

3. "Parental involvement" is one thing. No one objects that. "Parents as teachers" is another thing altogether, and something that families with two parents who work "9 to 5" jobs cannot do within ORCA's program. How does that set-up not discriminate?

Oregon's charter school law is very fuzzy in the areas that address the type of program ORCA is providing. Since the get-go, it has been controversial for a variety of reasons. You must have known this, so your apprent shock is, well, shocking.

gus miller said...

"So to comply with the AG's advice, a charter would have to provide transportation to any student in the state who wants to go to the school. Absurd."

The same would apply to magnet and special focus public schools in larger districts where parents are required to transport their kids to their choice of school as well as agree to other "conditions of acceptance."

Anonymous said...

Charters actually ARE required to provide transportation for students who live in the district that sponsors them, but not for those who live outside the district.

Rob Kremer said...

Anon 3:57

1) During the committee vote on 1071, and during the floor vote, more than one legislator stated that they were only voting for 1071 because it was their understanding that ORCA would be grandfathered.

No, that is not the same as it being explicitly in the law, but lacking any language in the law, a court would look to the legislative record to see what the intent was. Check it out - it is there.

2)This is just wrong. The 50% provision was not a compromise. Who was it that wanted it? Both the $2 million and the 50% provision are things that Democrats wanted.

3) The same could be said of the requirement that parents transport their kids to charter schools. Some parents can't, therefore the school discriminates.

Anon 5:54 -
No, charters are NOT required to transport kids in the district.

Anonymous said...


1. Just because a Legislator voices something on the floor to explain their rationale for voting doesn't mean that their wishes are granted. Again, I ask, please link to the "legislative record" you reference in your initial post.

2. The D's are not the only ones who wanted the 50% provision.

3. ORS 338.145 Responsibility for student transportation services; costs. (1) The public charter school shall be responsible for providing transportation to students who reside within the school district and who attend the public charter school. The public charter school may negotiate with a school district for the provision of transportation to students attending the public charter school.
(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1) of this section, the school district within which the public charter school is located shall be responsible for the transportation of students attending the public charter school pursuant to ORS 327.043 in the same manner as students attending nonchartered public schools if the student is a resident of the school district. However, a school district may not be required to add or extend existing bus routes or other transportation services pursuant to this subsection.
(3) Students who attend public charter schools and who reside outside of the school district may use existing bus routes and transportation services of the school district in which a public charter school is located.


Rob Kremer said...


1) I never said that "Just because a Legislator voices something on the floor to explain their rationale for voting doesn't mean that their wishes are granted."

Do you know how courts settle statutory disputes? They first go to the text of the measure. If there is plain language to settle the question, it ens there. If not, they try to figure out legislative intent.

They go to the legislative record, especially that of the testimony and statements by committee members and on the floor.

Direct expressions by legislators on the question at hand in those venues is one of the primary ways in which a court will decide what the intent was.

On this question - whether ORCA is grandfathered from the 50% requirement, or is the law retroactive - there is nothing in the bill that speaks to the question. So a court will have to go to the legislative record to see what the legislative intent was.

In the Budget Committee session on Aug 4th, Rep. Kropf and Rep. Richardson made the statement that they were only voting for the bill because they had been assured by the ODE that ORCA was grandfathered.

They and others said the same thing during the floor vote the next day.

Now, does that have the force of law? Of course not.

But when the unions fund a lawsuit to try and claim that ORCA must comply with 1071 (and we fully expect that they will. You seem to know something about this too, so I would guess you work at the OSBA) we feel pretty confident that a court will find plenty in the legislative record to prove the intent was to grandfather ORCA.

Since you are so savvy I am certain you know where on the legislature's website you can download and listen to both the 8/4 commiteee meeting and the 8/5 floor session to satisfy yourself that I am correct about this.

Don't mistake: we KNOW that at some point the unions will file the lawsuit. They cannot sit idly by and watch while ORCA grows into a 2000+ student school outside of their sphere of influence and control. They care not a whit about the kids or the schools.

We think we are on solid ground, because of what the legislative record will reflect. We couldn't stop the bill, but we made darn sure to make the record reflect what the ODE was saying about the gradfather issue.

2) Can you name a republican who wanted the 50% provision? You are just wrong.

3) Transportation - the law says Charters are "responsible" for transportation, not that they must provide it. I can't think of a single charter school that is providing transportation.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm familiar with the process (although I don't work for OSBA). Again, just because a Legislator voices their rationale or assumptions (during hearings or on the floor) does not mean that their assumptions are true (so, just because a few stated that they only voted hes on SB 1071 because they believed it wouldn't apply to ORCA doesn't mean the overall Legislative record supports this). Would SB 1071 have passed without the few votes of those who expressed their belief that ORCA would be exempt from SB 1071? Probably. Did ODE publicly or in writing agree to exempt ORCA? I'm fairly certain they didn't. Does ODE have the authority to exempt a school from a law? I don't believe so. The State Board does have that authority. Did they exempt ORCA from the 50% provision in SB 1071? I don't believe so.

I'm not against ORCA or online schools or charter schools. I just want to clarify the facts and issues involved. This school has been controversial from before the get-go because our law is fuzzy in some of the areas that directly relate to an online model. It's not as "cut and dried" as you make it sound.

Charters are responsible for transportation. What does that mean? It means that if some parent (who lives in the sponsoring district) decided to sue a charter school for not making sure their child got to school, the parents would probably win. Charters cannot require parents to drive kids. They have to make sure kids get there, either through existing district bus routes, coordinating car pools, etc. Of course, most charter school kids are driven by their parents, but that doesn't mean that charters can require them to do so. I do know charters that bus kids and coordinate car pools.

Rob Kremer said...

You are simply repeating yourself. The legislative record matters in a court of law when the law itself is silent on a question before the court.

Are you telling me that the legislature can pass a law that retroactively voids a legal contract?

If 1071 were to apply to an existing charter school then that is your position.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that whether new laws can retroactively apply to existing charter school contracts is actually something the Attorney General's office is considerating as we "speak."

All other laws that pass become immediately applicable to charter schools, so why would SB 1071 be an exception?

Anonymous said...

As a parent who choose Oregon Connections Academy for my student last year I must say that I was sorely disappointed in the system. They provided no student support, their program was not up to par on level to our local public schools and now my child is playing catch-up going into her junior year after a whole year of sub-standard education. I wouldn't recommend ORCA to any parent who wants a quality education for their child!

Anonymous said...

I have an older teen first year in connections accademy that has I feel excelent classes. The teachers offer help when needed. The teaching program seems very exstensive to me. I feel the information and teaching is made to keep students interested. My teen didnt understand a algebra concept, I emailed the teacher to let her know I do not understand algebra and my child was stuck..five minutes later we received a phone call from the math teacher and they were on the phone for several minutes..and my teen was smiling because they now understood. We shall see further into the year.

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