The 2011 session witnessed the passage of 14 bills that will have far-reaching effects on education in Oregon. Although I did not support every bill, the package was a classic legislative compromise where Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate, and the Governor all got things they wanted and some things they would have preferred to live without. Viewed in total, the bills represent a major step forward for our state, easily the most significant education reforms in decades.
The passage of these bills was controversial, both because of disagreement on the substantive merits of the proposals but also because some of the bills were brought to the House floor without the benefit of being fully heard and amended in committee. Committees are where the most important work happens, and some of the bills that we passed could and should have been improved before they came up for a vote of the full House. In part because of these objections to process, I voted "no" on HB 3645 (dealing with charter schools), HB 3681 (changing the rules for interdistrict transfers), and SB 248 (dealing with full-day kindergarten).
The most challenging bill for me was HB 2301, which allows the expansion of online "virtual" schools. Virtual schools have been a hot topic since I first arrived in the Legislature in 2009. Although I was initially a skeptic, I have met with dozens of students and parents of students who are flourishing in online schools. I have come to believe strongly that virtual schools serve an important role for students who, for a variety of reasons, may not thrive in a traditional school environment. Although it was a close call, I ultimately supported HB 2301.
Other important education bills include the following:
SB 909 establishes a unified "zero-to-20" approach that will enable us to address the education needs of the state in a integrated way, fulfilling a major objective of Governor Kitzhaber to stop funding K-12, community colleges, and universities as distinct and unrelated "silos." This is a tremendous advance for Oregon.
SB 552 allows the Governor to appoint the Superintendent of Public Instruction. No longer having a separately elected Superintendent is a vital step that will consolidate accountability for education at the state level.
SB 252 gives teachers the ability to design local systems that support and strengthen their own skills in the classroom.
SB 5055 provides an additional $25 million for K-12 education beyond what the Legislature approved earlier this session.