Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Good news on SB 621

It appears as if, at least for now, the union-backed bill that would have significantly harmed the charter school movement in Oregon is dead.

In its original form, SB 621 would have required all teachers in charter schools to be members of the union and licensed by the state. In addition, the bill restricted how many students could cross district boundaries to attend a charter school (a way to stifle the competitive effect of charters) and it would have capped, at 10%, the number of students in any district who could attend charters.

In the Senate Education Committee hearings, charter school supporters objected to all of these provisions. The Chair, Senator Walker, listened to the reasoning behind the objections, and got the OEA to withdraw most of the offending provisions of the bill.

The part that survived was the teacher certification requirement, although it was scaled back from 100% to 65% (charters are now required to have 50% of their teachers hold a state license.)

Senator Kruse, who sits on the committee, was able to get a minority report out along with the bill. The minority report kept the licensure requirement at 50% and kept some other stuff in the bill that was acceptable to everyone.

The bill was sent to the Senate floor last week, but instead of getting voted on, it kept getting held over to the next day - a sure sign that they were having a hard time lining up enough votes to pass it. Three times it was held over, and yesterday it was sent back to committee - which, at this stage of the session, means it is likely dead.

There are a few very interesting elements to this:

1) Charter schools are now in the mainstream of public education in Oregon. The importance of this cannot be overemphasized. If the teachers union is not able to muster enough votes on the Senate Floor, with a 19-11 D/R advantage, to pass a relatively modest re-regulation of charters, that means that Democrats no longer consider charter schools to be a partisan issue.

Why the change? My guess is that most of these legislators have charters in their districts, and know that the people in them are hardly the right wing. Most charters are run by liberals/Democrats! And that is wonderful. I have personally assisted on many charter school projects that have a progressive theme as part of their founding principals. So I think that Democrat legislators see that charters are not a partisan issue, they are an economic issue for an interest group. And they were unwilling to turn their backs on these schools, even at the behest of this economic interest group.

2) This marks the coming of age of the charter school movement as a political force in its own right. With 70 schools and 8,000 students, a fairly large army of foot soldiers can be assembled when legislation is proposed that puts them in peril. For the first time this session, these soldiers were mustered. We filled hearing rooms and overflow rooms, and we filled e-mail boxes. We rallied at the capitol with 500 screaming kids. These voices were heard.

3) The Democrats in the Senate are not robotron union shills. This is really good news. I think the argument of "what problem is this bill trying to solve?" made sense to them, and there were not enough of them satisfied with the answer the union gave.

4) Senator Vicki Walker, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, is a thoughtful, reasonable, and honest person. She listened to testimony by opponents of the bill and made changes to the bill to correct problems that the testimony highlighted.

Although I still opposed the bill after the changes, because it consitituted a net loss for charters, the fact that Sen. Walker treated the issue with such fairness and responsiveness needs to be pointed out. She is nobody's tool and nobody's fool. She is tough, fair minded, and has a maverick streak in her that I really appreciate.

Though I disagree with her politically on most issues, I have a ton of respect for her, and personally, I like her very much.

Lastly - nothing is truly over until sine die. So even though this bill might be dead, that doesn't mean something similar might pop up in the waning days of the session. So we can breathe a sigh of relief for now, but until that gavel comes down, there will be no relaxing.


geoffludt said...


PDX Livin said...

It would be nice if the teachers were 100% certified. Also, the union needs to be an option for these teachers (not a requirement).


Anonymous said...

I agree with you absolutely about Vicki Walker. I've enjoyed several conversations with her and have come to admire her greatly.

Dave Lister

Rob Kremer said...

pdx - under current law, collective bargaining is an option.

As for certification, I totally disagree. There is a ton of research that shows certification has no effect on student achievement. And requiring 100% simply takes away crucial flexibility.

Anonymous said...

Belonging to the Union should be optional for all public school teachers in Oregon (not a requirement).

TheDuncan said...

In the day that most of us say "what differnce can I make?"
I can now show my son that getting involved in government really worked. We defeated a large special interest that could throw around a great deal of money. The people have truly won. You are right. We must be ever vigilant.
Kepp up the good work.