Legislative Report - September 2022
By Anne Nesse
Presenting some daunting problems for the future of education in Oregon. September 2022 Interim Session Legislative Days
I am hoping that you can take some time to listen to a few of these meetings, and I will list the important topics discussed, with some summary, in the order they were presented. Both listening and reading about the meetings can be more impactful, as there are so many facts being presented.
Senate Interim Education (listen to the meeting). This was the most significant committee for me and probably you, to listen to. They first addressed “equity” in the public school system. A task that is simply insurmountable in many cases. David Bedman, a neutral fact finder, presented his assessment, and included several recommendations: 1) a statewide Individual Education Plan (IEP) Program that transfers throughout the state, 2) more training on kind discipline of students, versus depriving students of school or recess hours, 3) an 800 number for parents to be more informed of their rights, and 4) greater involvement required of the system working with parents (a legal consensus agreement), not just saying “this is the only solution we can offer you”. An interesting fact was stated by Mr. Bedman, that the state of Oklahoma had the best state control over local jurisdictions in supervision of education.
SB 744 Second in the meeting was the re-assessment of High School graduation requirements. The most significant parts of this presentation were the conflicts between what students desired to learn at any specific time in their high school career, and what classes were offered or required in a specific school district. We were reminded that Oregon is among states who require the most classes to complete for graduation. Students most conflicted chose to use work samples, instead of the essential skills test to complete their diploma. Even college performance was not predicted well by any type of paper and pencil testing. No one in the meeting defended the essential skills test as relevant to future success, based on outcomes. Classes on relevant financial and personal planning, as well as a single diploma with multiple pathways statewide was recommended. The Higher Education Committee (HECC) recommended including improved reading, writing, and mathematics within other coursework at colleges and universities, as well as any post-secondary work training and job training the individual later pursued. A question was asked about teaching “critical thinking skills” as a goal, and Director Gill answered yes, that is one of our goals, however the conclusion was also that paper and pencil testing did not assess this well for many individuals.
Thirdly in the meeting, and the most significant by health standards, was ventilation standards in the state’s classrooms, especially now that many are overcrowded. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) told school officials that it recommends a range of 3-6 air exchanges per hour, along with other efforts to improve indoor air quality. It was presented that improving ventilation and temperature significantly increases learning, would possibly decrease by 67% all illnesses, and can decrease coronavirus transmissions by 80%. Improving ventilation is also a greater energy saver than changing to LED lighting, which is only an 11% savings. We also need CO2 sensors in all the classrooms. It was discussed among the Senators how hard it is to equitably fund infrastructure improvements in the State of Oregon’s current funding laws. The total costs for re-fitting the entire state in healthy ventilation systems for all public schools was stated to be in the Billions of dollars, and that does not even include making sure the installers and maintenance persons in the schools know how to properly monitor and maintain the systems for the safety of our children.
House Early Childhood Interim Education (listen to the meeting). Of interest is that we are delayed in starting the Preschool for All Programs. However even with the significant waste of funds reported, and delay, it was presented by those reporting that this was an inevitable outcome while converting a mostly private enterprise system, during a pandemic, into a statewide equitable system.
House Interim Education Committee (listen to the meeting). The use of legislative funds for rural areas on “equity” in education was discussed. The Task Force on Student Voices went all over the state listening to rural area comments. At least one of the conclusions is that there is “no college going culture” in many Oregon cultural groups, whether low income or ethnically biased. However the greatest problem by far, facing all students, is the lack of state or federal funding for post-secondary education. The fact that in the last 4 decades the cost of attending higher education of many kinds has increased 5X higher than other goods and services, true even without including the large increases in acquiring housing, food, or child care. Post secondary education is now often out of reach for 50% of our students, unless they take out loans, with an average of 20 year paybacks. A bleak prospect for tomorrow’s youth in Oregon.
Anne Nesse, volunteer for the education portfolio the League of Women Voters of Oregon
Feel free to contact me at 208-660-9185 if you have questions, or would like to help us in any way.