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Bennett's Blog: A Look Behind the February Curtain Print E-mail

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

It’s been about three weeks since official publication of the statutes passed by the 2011 Session and we’re getting a look at the new laws being planned for the 2012 Session. So, what does the “don’t-let-the-ink-dry” pace of legislating hold for education when lawmakers reoccupies the statehouse in Salem?  Here’s a look behind the curtain:

- The newsiest new laws will revolve around Gov. Kitzhaber’s education re-do outlined in the last Session. That set of changes created the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) headed by a new education CEdO and set out a wholesale revamping of education policy based on an early childhood to moving out of your parents’ basement after graduate school model most often labeled “P-20.”

 Next month’s Session will begin hanging drywall on the studs (I like this metaphor better than meat on the bones). The bill, which won’t have a number until Feb. 1, mainly specifies the CEO’s role in managing early childhood, K-12, community college and higher education policy and existing structures like the State Board of Education.

It also sets out the statutory structure of the “achievement compacts” that will be arrived at between local school boards and the OEIB. The new law describes the categories of outcomes to be contained in the compacts, directs school boards to identify targets for the outcomes, requires communications with key constituencies during development of the compacts and exempts school districts from any penalties for not meeting compact targets.

-The Legislature also will consider a series of mandate relief issues in another piece of legislation. This proposal takes on a series of mandates including elimination of a number of data collection requirements and designation of designated activity or instructional programs like Arbor Day, Women’s History and Oregon Statehood weeks.

- It’s predictable that there would be a catch-all bill that takes on a whole batch of issues in education. Remember, each legislator was limited to two bills and committees to only five for the February Session. With that kind of tight limit, one strategy is to load up one bill with a lot of issues. This Session it will be the Omnibus Education Bill. Here’s a short list of the proposals currently in the bill but be advised that legislation like this one has a tendency to grow as issues are identified that need a vehicle out of the Session: Allows ESD board members from districts that withdraw from the ESD to retain their seats; requires kids 5 or 6 years old, who are enrolled in public school to maintain regular attendance; requires the State Board of Education to encourage increased learning time; makes some minor changes in charter school proposal requirements and in the process for renewal or termination of them; extends the deadline for implementing model core teaching standards; removes the authorization for ESDs to provide entrepreneurial services and facilities to public and private entities.

- No Session would be complete without the creation of another task force. February will be no exception. This time it will be in the Virtual School Governance Bill. The bill is fairly simple. The Legislature wants a group of legislators, virtual school managers, parents, and one education professional to take on how to govern on-line education. If this sounds familiar – it’s been tried before and apparently the answers from previous groups haven’t passed political muster.

- The scandal over the past several months like the Sandusky affair at Penn State have prompted a proposal to extend who is a person required to report child abuse to higher education. It also will extend the mandatory reporter requirement to certain volunteers in K-12 schools. This bill is likely to grab a lot of news attention because of its relationship to national headlines.

- There also will be a substantial bil l dealing with cost savings by modifying certain aspects of the PERS system. Here’s a quick overview of its provisions: it is confined to school employees; authorizes the PERS board to establish a guaranteed interest rate for crediting member accounts of school employees that is lower than assumed interest rate; provides that Tier 1 and Tier 2 school employees cease to be members of individual account programs on effective date of act; allows school employees who are already members of individual account programs to continue as members but prohibits further employee contributions to the accounts; requires the PERS board to create school employee accounts for members who is school employees; limits cost-of-living adjustments to $2,000 of retirement allowance, pension or other benefit payable to or on behalf of school employees; imposes limits on total retirement benefits payable to school employees to 100 percent of their final average salary, and reduces the limit to 90 percent for members who retire on or after January 1, 2017, and to 80 percent for members who retire on or after January 1, 2022; provides that the limit does not reduce retirement allowance or pension of a member as calculated immediately before the limitations are imposed; and it creates the School Savings Account and rate stabilization subaccount.

This is will turn out to be only part of the of February bills effecting education.  There are likely to be more introduced by individual legislators we haven’t seen yet.

There is likely to be a bill looking in some way at class size issues – the most likely is a reporting requirement that would give policy makers a look at the size of every classroom in the state on some given date at some given time. This is being pursued by OEA. Another bill that has been discussed at length is one limiting the 1039 rule on hours PERS retirees can work before it effects there benefits. We are watching this one closely and are concerned about its impact, particularly on smaller districts and, of course, on Oregon retirees who are the only ones effected by its provisions.

Please let me know any thoughts you may have on any of this or any other legislation your read. I’ll be posting daily on Twitter at Twitter.com/COSALeaders and on Facebook at Facebook.com/COSALeaders throughout the legislative meeting.

This page was last updated on Monday, February 27, 2012 .