Monday, June 29, 2009

Session over; virtual school bill passes

The virtual school bill finished its long shameful journey today on the last day of the session, as the house voted 31-29 to adopt the amendments made to the bill in the conference committee.

The bill had a total of 56 amendments, and by the time it got to the final form voted on today, it STILL had drafting errors and unintended consequences that the carrier had to pledge, on the floor prior to voting, to work to fix in the next legislative session.

The amended bill isn't anywhere near as destructive as it started. In its first version, it made it illegal for any K-7 student to attend a virtual school on line. Virtual charter school supporters were very effective in communicating their displeasure to the Democrats who were going along with this travesty.

In the four different floor votes on the bill, there was never a single Republican vote in favor. Democrats had a gun to their head by leadership. We constantly heard, all session long, that people had never seen a bill so many hated yet were voting for. Arm twisting doesn't begin to describe it.

The most shameful moment of all was Saturday's Senate floor session, when the bill passed 16-14. The bill's chief sponsor, Senator Devlin, gave the most insipid and self-aggrandizing floor speech I have ever seen.

He knew he had to explain to his colleagues why it was so important to him to deny virtual education to the thousand plus students who will not be able to enroll this year as a result of the bill. Of course, all of his colleagues KNEW the reason: he is a lap dog of the OEA and they wanted the bill.

But that explanation wouldn't fly on the floor. So he went on and on about how much he cares about education that he thinks about it every waking moment, and then he gave a tearful account of his own struggles in the third grade when bad eyesight made it so he couldn't learn to read. He was all choked up as the told this story - and anyone watching was thinking: "Then why do you want to deny today's third graders from enrolling in the school they want? What does your macabre display of overwrought emotion have to do with this bill, which will only deny kids what you were able to get?

It was amazing. I lost any respect I had for that man. He was nothing more than a shill for the OEA all session long, and he cared not a whit for the very real human cost of his desire to advance his own political career.

Senator Devlin is the worst type of politician. I will call him out every chance I get.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

House passes SB767

It was another weird chapter in a saga that has been fraught with bungling, mishandling, outright lies, and the most cynical political power plays that I have witnessed in almost 15 years of dealing with the legislature.

Here is the scene:

The bill as amended in committee before coming to the floor was still completely screwed up, and the Democrats knew it. The amendments they hurriedly moved into the bill in Revenue Committee were bungled. But instead of sending the bill back to committee to fix it, the Democrats did something a bit strange...

They decided to pass the bill as it is, but promise that it would go into a conference committee to be fixed. So the carrier of the bill on the House floor, Rep. Sarah Gelser, didn't really speak to the bill during her opening, she spoke to how the bill was to be amended in conference committee. And the members were supposed to vote on the bill just on the assurance that the bill would be amended as she said it would.

That is strange enough. But how do we know that the bill would be amended as Gelser said? What assurance does anyone have?

Among other things, Gelser said that the "time-out" for virtual charter schools would cap enrollment in existing virtuals at the levels of May 1st, 2009. That was different than how the bill currently read, which limited enrollment to the existing students on that date. That's a big difference - if enrollment is limited to existing students, then when a kid leaves the school, he can't be replaced, and the school will shrink.

The nature of virtual charters is that they do have a good bit of turnover, because lots of families use them for temporary solutions.

Rep. Matt Wingard asked Rep. Gelser for clarification on this point. He asked:

"Under the anticipated amendments that you were speaking about, will enrollment for Oregon Connections Academy be capped at the May, 2009 level until the moratorium is over, as my understanding of the current, or dash-29 amendments, capped ORCA at sts current students only, so if the student leaves, that spot is gone.?"

Gelser responded:

"My understanding, and we will receive further clarification in the conference committee, is that it is capped at the total number of enrollment on May 1st, 2009, but that all students currently enrolled in the school, are able to continue to attend, as well as are their siblings – brothers and sisters who may not yet be enrolled. So if a brother or sister wished to enroll, and they would cause the enrollment to be greater than what was in place on May 1st, 2009, that the total number capped from May 1st would not apply. Did that make sense?"

OK, there we have it. It is a BIG improvement in the bill. It is the difference between ORCA staying the same size, and perhaps growing a bit with sibling enrollment, to ORCA withering on the vine, unable to replace exiting students.

So after the floor vote (31-28,) Gelser let it be known that we could get from her office the amendments that would be moved into the bill in conference committee. Guess what?

The amendments (the SB767-C36) STILL limits enrollment to the existing students on May 1st, 2009! There is NO CHANGE in the language from the current bill on that point. It is completely contrary to what Gelser stated on the floor, in direct questioning from Wingard.


Now, honestly, I don't think Gelser was lying. I think she was lied to by her leadership, and allowed to go make a fool of herself on the House floor as she carried the water on a bill she never sponsored and from all appearances never very much liked.

And the question now is will they fix this thing to read like Gelser said it would read? Or will the Democrat leaders who have engineered this travesty all along just continue the sham, force a vote on the dash-36 amendments in conference, and try to muscle the thing on the Senate and House floors, just like they have done all along?

If recent history is any guide, they will do the dishonest thing. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, after all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

THAT"S the problem!

If you want to understand exactly how much the public employee unions are running things around here, read this story from Willamette Week.

The OEA used the State Department of Education's lawyer to draft its bill to kill virtual charter schools - even though several of the provisions of the bill the ODE lawyer drafted for the teachers union are directly contrary to the State Board's own position on virtual charters.

And the State Board of Education chairman, Duncan Wyse, sees no problem with this!

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, IS THE PROBEM!

So OEA, a private interest group, gets to use public resources to draft legislation that is directly contrary to the public interest as expressed by the State Board chair, and that chair says "no problem!"

No sweat. I always want my employees helping outside entities that are trying to subvert my policies. Especially if I am the government. And especially if that outside entity is the Teachers Union, because, well, they really are the boss around here anyway.

Stay tuned - this story is far from over. SB 767 passed out of the House Revenue Committee on Monday, with some amendments that were so hurriedly drafted that they seem to now want to change the bill again.

On Thursday, the ORCA waiver request is once again on the agenda of the State Board of Education monthly meeting. The subject of the Willamette Week article, Cindy Hunt, has been "advising" the State Board through nine months of inaction on ORCA's waiver, despite the fact that the Board's own rules put in place a 90 day deadline for acting on such requests.

Now, after delaying month after month, if SB767 passes as written by Cindy Hunt, the State Board's authority to grant ORCA a waiver from the 50% provision would be taken away, and if the Board happened to grant ORCA the waiver on Thursday, the bill would revoke it.

No, there is no problem at all here. Things are apparently working just as they are supposed to be.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Senate did it

In a 16-14 vote, the Oregon Senate passed SB767. Now, the future of vitual charter schools will likely, quite literally, lie in the hands of their enemies.

Sure, the bill still has to pass the House. But we'd have to get 6 Democrat votes (and keep every Republican on board) to kill it there. That is a long shot.

What is disappointing about the way this played out is that the bill was so dishonest, so disingeneous, and everyone knew it. But enough of them went along because the power player in the building wanted the bill, and the Democrats were going to feed the beast.

It is this type of thing that erodes public respect for the legislature as an institution. When you see this kind of thing railroaded through, so brazenly tossing thousands of kids under the bus as a sop to a powerful interest group, the true motivations of many of the people involved is laid bare.

Most disappointing is those who often cast thoughtful, honest votes who just went in the tank on this one. Sen. Rick Metsger voted in favor of the bill. He saw all the testimony in the Senate Education Committee, and he even saw the railroad job that Sen. Devlin performed in the Rules committee. He knew what this was all about - he even said as much when the bill passed out of Rules. He publicly stated then that he reserved the right to vote no on the floor, because he was unhappy with the way the bill was amended in Rules.

Metsger is a good man, a likeable guy, and usually has at least legitimate reasons for voting the way he does. But today he was a bag man for Devlin. He cast the deciding vote. He sold the kids down the river. It is a shame.

Oh, they will all tell you their reasons. But these are nothing but rationalizations. The fact of the matter is, this bill will seriously cripple virtual charter schools in Oregon.

The bill creates a task force made up almost entirely of education establishment status quo defenders, whose job it will be to decide on a framework for governing online education in Oregon, and propose legislation to the 2010 special legislative session.

Think about that. Not only is the committee stacked with virtual charter opponents, but so will be the 2010 legislature.

So the future of each virtual school beyond the next school year is completely uncertain. What would you do if you had a child enrolled in a school that might be gone the next school year? What would you do if you WORKED at a school whose future was so uncertain?

Yet the Democrats in the Senate apparently don't care about creating this kind of uncertainty fo thousands of kids and hundreds of employees. That pales in comparison, I guess, to the needs of the OEA, COSA, OSEA, and AFT.

After all, these groups elect Democrats. So they must be pandered to.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Sen. Vicki Walker and Sen. Joann Verger, both of whom voted against the bill. I don't really know Verger, but Vicki Walker is one of my favorites. She is tough, smart and fair. We of course disagree on plenty, politically. But I have long admired her toughness.

This is a sad day for the integrity of the Oregon legislature.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Union lies to its members about virtual schools

The OEA publishes a monthly magazine, The OEA Today. The June issue has a blurb about SB 767 in which they blatantly lie about virtual charter schools and what the bill does.

You would think that the OEA could manage to be honest when telling their own members what they are up to, but I guess they know if people - including their own members - were actually well informed about what the OEA actually does, that they would lose support fast.

Here is what the OEA says about virtual charter schools:

"Currently Oregon's virtual school providers are taking money that has been allocated to public school students and spending it instead on subsidizing home school students. This is a backdoor voucher scheme."

There is so much in error here, it isn't funny. All these schools are doing is using money allocated to educate public school students to educate public school students. The OEA doesn't happen to like the public school these kids and their parents have chosen (because the teachers are not unionized,) but these are public schools, NOT home schools.

How could this possibly be a backdoor voucher scheme? A voucher is a way to use public funds to pay tuition at a private school. Virtual charters are public schools. Their teachers are public employees. The students take all the same tests and are held to all the same standards as other public school students. To describe a virtual public charter school as a "backdoor voucher scheme" is just ridiculous.

The OEA knows this full well, but it thinks so little of its tens of thousands of members that it doesn't think they will realize they are being lied to.

But someone has to point it out.

Floor vote tomorrow on bill to kill virtual charters

The teacher union's bill to kill virtual charter schools in Oregon (SB 767) is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor tomorrow. We will see once and for all which Senate Democrats are willing to sell the kids down the river at the demand of the union.

It really is that simple. The unions changed the bill in certain ways that might put off for awhile the death of the virtual schools they hate so much, but it is just window dressing. In its current form the bill freezes enrollment of all virtual schools, prevents any new ones from being approved, and then it creates a "workgroup" to figure out how to govern virtual schools.

The workgroup is just stacked with education establishment folks. There isn't even a parent of a virtual school student on it! The workgroup will recommend legislation to the interim session they plan to hold in early 2010.

Sen. Richard Devlin is the sponsor. This fight isn't over. We need three Democrat votes to kill this on the floor. Frankly, the fact that it is scheduled for a vote most probably means that Devlin has been able to twist enough arms to prevent three D's from defecting.

But why would reasonable folks like Rick Metsger go along? Or Martha Schrader? Or Betsy Johnson? if these folks cast a Yes vote on SB767, it will be disappointing indeed.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Brooks on the GM deal

David Brooks writes in today's New York Times about why the Obama plan for GM is fated to fail.

Here is just one of his many excellent points:

"Fourth, the Obama plan dilutes the company’s focus. Instead of thinking obsessively about profitability and quality, G.M. will also have to meet the administration’s environmental goals. There is no evidence G.M. is good at building the sort of small cars the administration demands. There is no evidence that there is a large American market for these cars. But G.M. now has to serve two masters, the market and the administration’s policy goals."

This is what happens when you nationalize industry. It bastardizes the purpose of business into worrying more about political considerations than business considerations. Which ensures it fails, since it has to compete with companies that have no such dual purpose.

This is so very sad.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Why I love the Bend Bulletin

Read this all the way to the end. I received it over email, so I assume this is not a copyright violation. If it is, I will take it down. But at least there is one newspaper in Oregon that is calling out the ridiculous job killing policies Oregon is pursuing.


Bend Bulletin
June 1, 2009

Let Oregon politicians put any kind of spin they want on the latest state unemployment figures. The truth is, we lost out to Michigan — again.

Try as the Oregon Legislature did, Michigan has kept the crown of the nation’s unemployment king.

Michigan reported a 12.9 percent unemployment rate in April. We Beaver Staters staggered in behind at No. 2, reporting a flat 12 percent. It gets worse. Michigan pulled away. Its rate grew by 0.3 percentage point from March to April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We almost didn’t grow at all, moving up only 0.1 percentage point.

The Legislature can revel with some pride in the No. 2 slot. It has earned it. It has led us this far. But somewhere along the way, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s strategy of The Oregon Way has lost its way. There may be hundreds of pages of new green requirements, new taxes and new regulations generated by this Legislature. It has not been enough.

Don’t despair. We can leave Michigan in the dust. We can be christened the king. There’s still time left this legislative session.

Brace yourself for what may come. All the Legislature must do is to keep doing what it has been doing: Keep digging the hole from which no job can return.

Let’s review:

• Thank goodness the legislators didn’t tweak the state’s minimum wage law. Oregon’s minimum wage went up by 45 cents per hour on Jan. 1 as the economy plunged in a nosedive. Legislators killed a bill that would have required increases in minimum wage to be suspended if the state unemployment rate was flying high above the national average. That was a close one. Employers may have been able to hire more people.

• There’s still hope for more new taxes. There’s a plan to single out the wealthiest Oregonians for tax increases. If one proposal becomes law, we could tie Hawaii for imposing the highest personal income tax rate. That’s a masterstroke, although you have to wonder if legislators will be satisfied with not being a tax leader. Oh well, maybe that will be enough to get those wealthy folks to leave the state. We don’t need their capital, their knowledge. They can help us get to No. 1 and take their jobs somewhere else.

• The Legislature’s efforts to hold down health care costs have been suitably minimal. That fits right in with making it more expensive to hire anyone. Kulongoski isn’t touching the rich health benefits of full-time state employees. Those workers contribute nothing toward their premiums and have no annual deductible. The plan for statewide health care reform is its own form of legislative genius. The Legislature wants a tax to pay for health care that will raise the cost of health care without any firm commitment to shaving costs. It’s a surefire hit to jobs.

• The Legislature hasn’t been just noodling around on green leadership. There’s a firm commitment to driving up the cost of energy, so Oregonians will have to pay more green for power than people in other states. That’ll make employers considering relocating to Oregon think twice. In a related move, the Legislature has done its best to restrict construction of new destination resorts. Resorts could have meant construction jobs and new homes for people who were likely to throw us off track by having jobs.

Fear not, there’s more than that in store. But sometimes it takes more than swarms of clever schemes to shoo away jobs. Every campaign needs a focus, a rallying point. For that purpose, we unveil below a humble suggestion for a new state flag. Behold: