You've probably heard about the Oregon Education Association's (OEA) "report card" on the most recent members of the Oregon legislature. If you follow our Facebook page you've also seen links to some of the commentaries coming out around the state (including ORCAPA), questioning the ratings. We thought this a perfect opportunity to give our own recap of the performance of some of the players in the recently-passed education bills.
Representative Sara Gelser, Co-Chair of the House Education Committee
We have appreciated her support and dialogue in the past. We certainly appreciate her help in 2009 finding compromise over the contentious SB767 that came within a hair of closing down virtual schools. Without her help and dialogue, our schools would be shut down. We also appreciate that she took time out of her schedule to visit an online virtual school family to see what their daily school schedule is like and spoke about her experience in testimony.
That dialogue did not continue in 2011. She didn’t return emails or engage in the friendly and productive dialogue we had in 2009. In fact, she held back several school reform bills in the Education Committee by not allowing them to even be heard, go through the public scrutiny process, and ultimately to committee votes. Yet in the end, those same bills came forth in the Governor’s education package of 14 bills. She was very critical on the House floor about how these bills weren’t allowed public scrutiny, yet she was a major reason why they weren’t allowed hearings.
Senator Mark Hass, Chair of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee
When SB927 came about this spring, Senator Hass had the opportunity to let this onerous bill die in committee. It came up for public testimony at the beginning of April. As is always the case, the proponents were allowed to testify first. Senator Hass, watching those proponents who are in the Capitol daily as part of their paid positions, allowed those people to use the entire testimony time to talk about what was already submitted in written form. Senator Hass could easily look at the public testimony sheet and see that stake holders (online virtual school parents and families), wearing t-shirts and bright colored scarves, filled the room and were ready to testify. These families drove from all over the state, yet he allowed those he sees daily in the Capitol to use up all the time. He closed that testimony and stated that testimony would be extended to two days later. A handful of us showed up at that time, since others couldn’t make the same trek again, only to find out that no testimony was allowed and the bill was passed on to the next committee with “no recommendation”. He was unwilling to stand up to the OEA pressure to move the bill along.
We don’t appreciate Senator Hass’ shutting stake holders out of the public testimony process. We do however, appreciate his yes vote for the education package and that he realizes that school reform is a must if Oregon is going to become a state where kids do come first.
Senator Larry George
Senator George has been a big supporter of school choice. We appreciate him speaking up for the truth on this bill when we stakeholders, parents and families were not allowed to. During what little testimony there was on SB927, he clearly stated that the bill was a layer of “shoulds and should nots” and was unncessary bureaucracy.
House Representative Ben Cannon
We are somewhat surprised by Representative Ben Cannon's recent appointment as one of the Governor's top education advisors. After voting for legislation that would end this very type of "revolving door" move from the legislative to executive branch, he was quick to resign his elected office when given the chance personally. That he was offered the job after only being partially behind the Governor's education package is interesting to consider. If our state leaders are against something, then for it when it benefits them personally, how can they be trusted to come up with fair rules and laws for the rest of us?
Representative Michael Dembrow
Representative Dembrow is the nicest man you will ever meet. He will talk to you and he will respectfully disagree with you on school reform.
What frustrates us to no end is that time and time and time again in hearings he will testify he is “pro online virtual schools.” Yet he has a 100% voting record against any legislation that will allow virtual schools to be unshackled and allowed to thrive. He also testifies continually that he is an expert in online virtual schools since he teaches at the college level using online courses. We respectfully remind Mr. Dembrow that online virtual school for K-12 education is vastly different than the infrastructure he uses at the college level. We wish he would take one of us up on our invitation to visit an online virtual K-12 student’s family and see what he keeps voting against. For someone who claims to be an expert, he knows very little about what he’s opposing.
Representative Mitch Greenlick
We do not agree with Representative Greenlick’s personal attack on a colleague on the House floor. He insulted a pro-online virtual school colleague, claiming he “profits” from Connections Academy because he had a marketing contract with them. Yet this target has always followed protocol by stating at every public hearing his potential “conflict of interest”. Let us not forget, Representative Greenlick may not “profit” opposing online virtual schools, but his campaign is funded heavily by their opponents. Yet we do not remember Representative Greenlick’s statement of his potential of conflict of interest, nor really the reason for personally attacking a colleague, and bringing disrespect to the democratic process by defaming another member of his own legislative body. He could simply have voted "no" on the bill.
Representative Julie Parrish
Representative Parrish has been a breath of fresh air for school reform in Oregon. She not only whole-heartedly supports online virtual schools, she supports school reform and introduced many education reform bills. She knows online schools are just one part of the comprehensive changes needed in Oregon’s education system (harter schools, professional special licensing, etc.) She took her freshman year as a representative by the horns and elevated the school reform discussion to a whole new level.
Representative Kim Thatcher
Representative Thatcher is a rock-solid supporter of school choice. While she has a lot on her plate with her other committees that are not always education-related, we can count on her, hands down, to vote for school choice.
Representative John Huffman
Representative Huffman carried HB2301, the online virtual school bill that was the first of the fourteen in the education package. It was also the lightening rod of all the bills; if that one hadn’t passed, none of the others would have either. He has been a longtime supporter of online virtual schools, and was a member of the task force that came out of SB767. He was the focus of the lightening rod when HB 2301 hit the floor, handled the stress well, and kept his cool. We never have to worry with Representative Huffman, he always remains level-headed when it comes to online schools and school choice. He wants the best for Oregonian students, and knows when parents choose, kids win.
A long-time educator before joining the state legislature, Representative Komp carries an incredible amount of credibility regarding education issues. In defiance of her party leadership and the education establishment (sometimes indistinguishable groups), she voted to support many reforms and expansion of school choice options. We can only imagine the pressure exerted on her to vote with the opponents of school reforms, but she continued to stand up, speak out, and vote on behalf of Oregon families and students.
These are but a few of the VERY long list of lawmakers who were part of the drama that was the recently-completed session. Do you have additional comments, for or against a representative or senator, who you think made a difference in Oregon education law?