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Charter school focus misses mark

by: Submitted photo FROM THE LEGISLATURE - Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) represents House district 31 and can be reached at <span id=This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-986-1431" title="by: Submitted photo FROM THE LEGISLATURE - Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) represents House district 31 and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-986-1431"" class="caption" width="481" />

This week I'd like to share some thoughts with you about HB 2287, the first bill to reach the House floor this session only to have further action on it suspended for five days.

House members have been unable to move the bill because it poses dilemmas for so many of us. Legislators, parents, teachers and students alike seem to agree on the need for educational reform. HB 2287, however, proposes reforms for charter schools only and not our broader educational system.

Ironically, many people view charter schools as purveyors of school reform rather than needy candidates of such efforts. To make matters worse, HB 2287 diminishes charter schools' accountability to local communities. Thus the bill places educational reform, school choice and local school control at odds with each other. Only in the Legislature can we place ourselves in such a predicament.

It might be helpful to define exactly what a charter school is. I find that many do not realize that a charter school is actually sponsored by and funded through the local school district. Here is a definition from the website of the Oregon Department of Education:

A charter school in Oregon is a public school operated by a group of parents, teachers and/or community members as a semi-autonomous school of choice within a school district. It is given the authority to operate under a contract or 'charter' between the members of the charter school community and the local board of education (sponsor). Under Oregon law, a charter school is a separate legal entity operating under a binding agreement with a sponsor. A public charter school is subject to certain laws pertaining to school district public schools, is released from others and must operate consistent with the charter agreement.

Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools; however the students must still meet the same state and federal academic performance standards as traditional schools. There's no doubt that Oregonians support charter schools. Over the past 12 years, 106 charter schools have been created in Oregon serving 18,000 students.

HB 2287 seeks to change some of the ground rules surrounding the creation of a charter school. Here are some of the key elements of

• Eliminates the requirement that charter schools be supported by the community, a critical ingredient that insures that public funds are being dedicated to a sustainable project.

• Restricts the amount of information that school districts may request from proponents, thereby denying districts the opportunity to thoroughly assess the quality of the proposal.

• Imposes an automatic five-year startup period and five-year renewal period. This ties the hands of the local school district to a virtual 10-year contract.

• Compels the state to sponsor a charter school if the local district's review is considered 'untimely.' This imposes an arbitrary timeline on school districts that may be coping with losses in both staff and funding.

HB 2287 is scheduled for more action on Monday when it will come up for another vote. This time around it will either pass, be re-referred to committee for adjustment or it will once again fail to obtain a passing grade, which in this case is 31 votes.

BILLS OF INTEREST

HJR 40 - Proposes amendment to Oregon Constitution to require that initiative petition with fiscal impact also provide new tax or fee or increase in rate of existing tax or fee to cover immediate and future costs of law or amendment.

SB 433 - Expands eligibility for medical assistance for low-income and uninsured women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer.

HB 2924 - Removes limitations on alcohol content, minimum amount, source and place of consumption for malt beverages sold by brewery.

HB 3057 - Eliminates statute of limitations for crimes committed against minors.

HB 2439 - Increases damages for unlawful taking or killing of certain game mammals.

HB 3508 - Repeals provisions authorizing local governments to regulate certain activities related to firearms.

HB 3314 - Prohibits importation of genetically engineered fish and shellfish into this state.

ITEMS OF INTEREST

I wanted to take just a few moments to tip my hat to Jeff Kemp, owner and CEO of Pacific Stainless in St. Helens.

Jeff was in the middle of site construction for a new building when the economy went south. Instead of pulling back, he chose to invest both in his operation and his community, hiring locally at every turn. When no local concrete company was big enough to handle the job alone, he split the contract and hired two. He also provides health care benefits for his employees.

Jeff reminds us that priorities like these move beyond the individual company and improve the economic health of the entire region. Good job, Jeff and Pacific Stainless!

Finally, I wanted to acknowledge the major event of this day, the earthquake in Japan and the resulting high alert on the Oregon Coast.

Scores of coastal residents left the area during the early morning hours in response to notifications through both phone calls and tsunami warning sirens.

We've been through disasters on the coast before and we know how to handle ourselves. We've spent a lot of time making sure we are prepared for this kind of natural emergency and our response teams did a great job of evacuating residents where necessary and standing ready to assist local residents.

We are grateful that it wasn't worse and we will keep the people of Japan in our thoughts and prayers during the coming days.