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Legislative update: session coming to a close Print E-mail

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

The 2011 Legislative Session is expected to close any minute now (okay, it could be any day) and it now appears safe to say its work on education legislation is complete.

Its final action on education policy came in a two day political drama focused on a package of 14 bills aimed at several general areas – funding, charter schools, overall state governance, ESDs, kindergarten and school choice.

Because the bills covered so many areas, it’s almost impossible to present the bills in a simple narrative like the one provided with the last big education package to pass in the 1990’s, “The Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century,” which substantially rewrote education law. Despite claims from some groups and legislators, the bills represent actions that are piecemeal rather than systemic.

A prime example is the two bills brought by Gov. Kitzhaber aimed at making substantial change in education governance. The legislature did pass SB 552, which makes the governor the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It then outlines the experience required for his deputy superintendent. Topping the list is five years as a school administrator. It also lets the governor set the deputy’s salary. The second bill on his agenda was SB 909 creating the Oregon Education Investment Board, which is commonly mischaracterized as a super-board. Rather it focuses heavily on early childhood education and will spend the interim developing legislation and a report that includes how to merge the state boards of education and higher education. What is not changed is the role of the State Board of Education in Division 22 and standards compliance issues that are at the core of their mission. This has all the potential to create a transformative package of future legislation.

The biggest promise for local districts comes in HB 5055, which added $25 million to the second year of the State School Fund allocation and another $14 million to take care of special education maintenance of effort requirements from the federal government. These dollars came from the Education Stability Fund. In addition to these dollars allocated in the bill, the legislature has promised another $56 million in state school funds to be added when it meets in February 2012. In addition to the direct appropriations, another $14 million will come to districts in a transfer of funds taken by reducing the share of SSF going to ESDs from 4.75% to 4.5%. This portion of the school funding is viewed as a wash.

The ESD bill, amended over 30 times during the session, was SB 250. The bill began life as a wholesale change in ESD funding, governance and district participation. It passed with the change in funding mentioned above plus a provision allowing districts in four ESDs to opt out of them with notice. The ESDs affected were all districts in Willamette, Multnomah and Northwest Regional and Baker County districts in Intermountain ESD. Questions remain on the mechanics of implementing the cut in ESD funding and the related transfer to local district funding. For districts receiving a pass through it is likely the impact will be a cut in pass through dollars and eventually an increase is SSF payments. All of that will be determined by the Office of Regional Education Services. This is a new program at ODE set up to review and make recommendations on the future of service districts. This allocation of dollars from the cut in ESD funding by the new office appears to be a major policy problem that will need review in February.

Three of the most controversial bills in the package were HB 3645, HB 3681 and HB 2301. These three bills failed to received support earlier in the Session but were revived by sponsors and recharacterized as a “parental choice” package and included in the final set of education bills brought to the floors of the legislature.

HBs 3645 and 2301 dealt with charter schools. HB 3645 was written to allow community colleges, OUS institutions, or any non-profit to sponsor charter schools. After many amendments that never had a public hearing, the bill was passed with statutory changes that allow charter applicants to appeal local school board decisions to participating community colleges, OUS institutions or OHSU. The bill is expected to finally become law with the provision that any of these institutions can opt out of the charter school business. Community colleges lobbied heavily against being required to hear appeals of charter applications. This bill doesn’t go into effect until next year and sunsets in 2017. HB 2301 vastly expands the potential size of on-line charter school operations by increasing the percentage of students from an individual district that can enroll to 3%. It removed the requirement that 50% of the students in an on-line charter school had to come from the sponsoring district. Opponents of the bill, which included COSA, argued the bill would have a substantial impact on the State School Fund if 3% of students enrolled in on-line schools. The final bill of this package relaxes current limits on inter-district transfers – again, opposed by COSA.

The final bill, HB 3681, allows students to transfer out of their current district but the receiving districts will be faced with substantially increased requirements including: development of a policy on transfers; setting school by school slots for transfers; making those slots first available to students inside the district; establishing a lottery system for slots if more students from outside district apply than there are slots available; accepting all student applicants without limitation; and maintaining the previous district’s IEP until a new one can be written; once a student is accepted the transfer can’t be rescinded; and several others. This bill doesn’t into effect until the 2012 school year and it sunsets in 2017.

SB 248 allows districts to continue to charge tuition for an additional half-day of kindergarten. It also allows districts to opt into an all-day kindergarten program in 2015 and collect an additional half ADM for the student beginning that year. Sponsors postponed implementation of the program with the promise that there would be a concerted effort to find the additional funding needed to pay for the program.

The bill setting up the aspirational goal of 100% of students graduating from high school with 40% getting a college diploma, 40% receiving an Associate degree or post secondary credential and that 20% or less achieve at least a high school diploma or equivalent. The bill number was SB 253.

Two other minor bills took funds from the Education Stability Fund for special projects. SB 453 alters the SSF formula to expand the Remote Small Elementary weight by changing qualification for the funds. SB 252 sets up the school district collaboration grant program, the Chalkboard Project’s CLASS project, and then it is funded for $5 million from the Education Stability Fund.
COSA will be working with districts and other education groups to evaluate the impact of many of these bills as well as participating in activities by interim committees and the Oregon Education Investment Board. We are concerned that several of the bills may have substantial negative impact on either education funding as a whole or on the stability of individual districts and we’ll be working to develop both information and strategies to take these issues to the legislature in February as well as alerting state level administrators to any problems that may develop. Several of these bills were adopted without adequate public hearings or review and in several of them we are concerned there could be real implementation problems.

COSA and OSBA are also working on a final report on all of the legislation that passed during this Session and will have that information to you in the next several weeks.

This page was last updated on Friday, September 09, 2011 .