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First annual session good for governor, education Print E-mail

chuck-bennett.jpgby Chuck Bennett, Director of Governmental Relations

Gov. John Kitzhaber had a great run in this first off-year session of the Oregon Legislature. All four of the four bills he labeled “must haves” passed and with only minimal tinkering by a Legislature evenly divided between political parties in the House, and with a one vote majority in the Senate. You’re going to read a lot of sports analogies but one that pops to mind after a session that began with historic flooding, wind, rain and snow in Salem is that it’s like heading over the mountains with the Donner Party and staying off the menu.

Along with the Governor, there were some other standout performances during the Session including the two House Speakers, Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) and Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg). The pair continued a streak of bipartisan cooperation that kept a lid on the almost impossible situation of 60 politicians, evenly split and all facing elections beginning in less than two months. The other notables were the three co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committee: Representatives Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) and Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) and Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin). As a team the co-chairs along with their leadership were able to put together a significant budget rebalancing deal that in the case of K-12 education protected schools from the across-the-board 3% cuts faced by all other state agencies. And in the final hours, they added another $2.5 million to the total to aid the state’s small school districts and put together a mechanism to help school districts like Vernonia devastated by natural disasters.

The list of education bills passed over the past 34 days, including elimination of an officially required Arbor Day and nine other mandates, is fairly short. Here are some of the highlights:

·    SB 1581 outlines of the duties of the as yet unhired Chief Education Investment Officer and sets up the Oregon Education Investment Board’s system of compacts with local school boards outlining institutional and student achievement targets. This bill was the centerpiece of the Governor’s education agenda. This bill also topped COSA’s legislative agenda and was worked on throughout the past year by the OASE Vision and Policy Committee and the OASE Funding Coalition.

·    HB 4014 was a catch-all bill that included a whole range of topics from the EESC championed mandate relief issues (chaired by Parkrose Superintendent Karen Gray) to changes needed to allow ESD board members to remain on the board even if their school district withdraws from the ESD (an OAESD measure). The bill also sets attendance requirements for five and six year-olds enrolled in public school.

·    HB 4164 lets districts currently under OEBB opt out beginning in October 2015 and purchase insurance from the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange Corporation, created in another of the Governor’s successful pieces of transformative legislation.

·    SB 1555 adds cyber-bullying to the list of bullying and harassment activities requiring school district policies for reporting and investigation.

·    HB 4165 gives the new Early Learning Council a batch of new jobs mainly aimed at coordinating a whole range of early childhood programs. This was another of the Governor’s major bills of the Session. The biggest job here is that the new group has to figure out how to redo programs and the current funding system to better meet children’s needs.

·    Then there were a batch of other new laws from guidance on lead paint, opposition to teen dating violence and requirements that employees of institutions of higher education, public and private organizations providing services to kids and coaches become mandatory reporters.

All in all, the Session was a good one for K-12 in that legislation needed to meet requirements for the NCLB waiver passed, no school support was cut and no new major cost burdens were added.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, March 29, 2012 .