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Legislative Report - Week of 2/20

By Anne Nesse, Education Portfolio

Senate Education introduced an “omnibus” Bill SB 283 to begin to solve the workforce shortage problems in education throughout our state.

Senator Dembrow reminded us shortages of professional teachers, teacher classified workers, food service workers, and school bus drivers, were being felt, even before the pandemic started, and are being felt nationwide. The Oregon Employment Department (OED) has stated, “schools simply compete for workers with many other industries which provide lower-stress, or lower-risk environments.” And for professional teachers, a Bachelor’s Degree, or Masters Degree is not well rewarded financially.

This “omnibus” SB 283 with -3 amendments, includes several sections and was introduced on 2/14 in a public hearing, attempting to raise wages of all classified staff (currently sometimes below minimum wage based on the number of hours allowed). The entire Bill is based on input from a committee of educators and educational group representatives to help solve our educational workforce problems, especially in special education. I participated in one of the committees. It also includes many other possible statewide solutions, a number of which will cause funding issues. Several educational association representatives were hesitant, and testified as neutral, on sections of this large “omnibus” bill. They suggested more precise language for the definition of classified staff and did not want a mandate created statewide, without sufficient State Budget funds. The Bill will go to W&Ms to assess final adoption. Listen to the entire hearing.

House Education met on 2/13 for public hearings involving school safety and preparedness and the vulnerability of some student ethnic groups on 2/15. Rep. Gomberg introduced HB 2908-2 on 2/13, to provide instruction on preparing for and recovering from fires, earthquakes, safety threats, and natural disasters. This directs the Department of Education to work statewide. Rep. Levy and Bowman introduced HB 3101-1, requiring public and private schools to have some kind of “panic alarm”, either a software app, or hard wired, to decrease emergency personnel response time. On 2/15 the public hearings focused on the vulnerability of certain groups of students within the educational system, including African/ Black Americans, Latino, Indigenous Peoples, and LGBTQ. Several students testified to add Hawaiian Islander to this HB 3144 list. HB 2905 adds Jewish descent to the list of individuals whose histories and contributions are required to be included in social studies academic content standards and in related textbooks and instructional materials, along with African, Asian, Pacific Island, Chicano, Latino, and Middle Eastern. Several Jewish students testified in support.

HB 2275 A work session was held in House Education, 2/15. Requiring applicants for Student Investment Account Grants to take into consideration recommendations of Advisory Groups formed by the Department of Education on diversity, in relation to statewide education plans.The original Advisory Committees were created by the Student Success Act, and intended to establish greater equity in funding throughout the state, including correctional facilities. However as ODE Director stated, in answer to questions, the results of forming these Advisory Committees is yet to be shown. This measure was voted out of Committee with a “Do Pass Recommendation to the Floor”, with one vote opposing.

SB 531, with -2 amendments. Speaking of increasing representation throughout our educational system, Senate Education held a work session on summer and after school learning programs, 2/16. This money will come from the General Fund, in yet unspecified amounts, encouraging community involvement. Perhaps you fellow LWV members know of community organizations where you live that could help? It was voted to JW&Ms with a “Do Pass” recommendation. The final bills heard in public hearing on 2/16 were on University Governing Board Representation, both for Oregon Health Sciences University, a public corporation board, and other public University Boards. Sen. Dembrow stated he had worked with the committees which initiated these Bills and testimony was made by a number of representatives of thousands of workers, that representation on these boards was important for them: SB 423 and SB 273 with -1 amendment.

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