Whose education testimony are the Senators afraid of?

A tale of Steve Buckstein’s and Russ Dondero’s time together at the State Capitol on February 8th.

Last Wednesday at 1pm, Hearing Room B in the State Capitol was packed with representatives of virtually every organization and special interest group involved in Oregon’s public education system. The focus was on SB 1581, one of the bills Governor Kitzhaber wants passed to continue concentrating power and control over pre-Kindergarten through graduate school in the hands of some of, as one Senator called them last year, “the best and the brightest of Oregon,” members of the Governor’s appointed Oregon Education Investment Board.

A long list of individuals signed up to testify before the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee that afternoon, virtually all noting on the sign-up sheet that they intended to support the bill. After nearly an hour’s worth of testimony, the Chair, Senator Hass, announced to the audience that he would only take another 15 minutes of testimony because the committee had other business to conduct. At that time, not one testifier had opposed the bill, even though at least two people had signed up to do so.

Finally, with 10 minutes to go, I was called to testify in opposition, which I did, along with another two of the bill’s many supporters. My testimony is here. But the other naysayer never got a chance to testify, even though he is one of the most respected educators in Oregon.

Russ Dondero is Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics & Government, Pacific University in Forest Grove. He and I come from different places in our analysis of many public policy issues, and we’ve had spirited public debates in the past. But on Wednesday we discovered that we both opposed this grand new attempt at educational reform, and for surprisingly similar reasons. We do not agree about what the better alternatives may be, but I frankly thought it was shameful that the committee chair wouldn’t make even a few minutes available for him to make his case. Would some fifteen or so testifiers in favor of the bill to two opposed have been so threatening that it couldn’t be allowed to happen?

So, I offered to link Professor Dondero’s written testimony here. I hope legislators and others will read it, as I hope they will read mine. Of course, this committee has already voted four to one to pass the bill on to the Ways and Means Committee. As one member stated at the hearing, even with some concerns “we can’t turn back now.” When he heard that, Professor Dondero turned to me and stated, “That’s what the captain of the Titanic said, too.”

Professor Russ Dondero’s testimony in opposition to SB 1581

Steve Buckstein’s testimony in opposition to SB 1581

Audio of the entire hearing (SB 1581 hearing starts at about 2:37 minutes; my testimony starts at about one hour into the hearing.)


Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Education, OR 76th Legislative Session, Oregon Government, Oregon Senate, Portland Schools | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • They are afraid of any common sense and my testimony in particular.  I sent all Oregon legislators a copy of this which received no reply:

    Sen Kruse,  Thanks for your newsletter on education, also mentioning health care and corrections.  Here are three ideas to make quick progress in these areas.  1) Education – 5th Graders are learning graduate school math for free from http://www.khanacademy.org/ so the state should create similar programs for other subjects.  If 5th graders memorize a Gospel and learn to live accordingly, they may improve their lives beyond what they learn from No Child Left Behind and graduate instead of learning to party, goof off, and drop out.  Layers of management to keep the child learning must start with the child. 2) Health Care – Doctors instill respect so children grow up thinking they are experts in healing and they take quality control from patients through insurance.  Actually doctors are people, some good and some incompetent, so each patient has to learn to shop to find the best health care provider for their problem.  To help patients regain control, insurance should not be allowed to focus on a medical group, but should provide equal support to all licensed medical people, like vouchers.  That would also reduce the vast differences in price where St. Johns in Longview, WA charges 4.4 times as much as the hospital clinic in Astoria for essentially the same service.   3) Corrections – DA’s and police incarcerate about 9 times as many people as there is physical evidence for, which should automatically create reasonable doubt.  Blocking and reversing the imprisonment of people with automatic reasonable doubt should end 90% of the entire legal system, ending the need for most prisons and related budget items.  See [Barry Scheck,Time May 31,2010 p.29] for the 90% figure.   As you can see, these three ideas can do a lot more good than simply moving money from one line item to another to try to find government employees who will do what you want.  The idea of requiring kids to memorize a Gospel before age 12 will have a great impact on the size of the population needing corrections and might even help correct some prisoners eventually reducing the Corrections budget well beyond 90%.

    • 3H

      Great, we’re going from No Child Left Behind, to Left Behind.

  • EarthBaby

    These clowns are so stupid it makes me sick.
    They and their union thug buddies are not worth a second’s time.
    Idiots.

  • Chana Cox

    Governor K’s grand plans will not work. As you point out, such top down plans rarely do work. It will, however, greatly bloat the Oregon State budget.
    Russ Dondero’s argument is that Oregon school children do not learn because they come from impoverished backgrounds. That has been the standard thinking on the subject for quite some time. It tends to excuse the failure of the system. What the KIPP academy and other “No Excuses” charter schools have shown is that children of all backgrounds do learn if the schools are prepared to teach kids to “work hard and be nice.” The way to reduce poverty is to educate the children. Historically, education has been very effective in this country in lifting poor and immigrant groups out of poverty. It is no longer effective.
    It is also increasingly clear that the middle class kids in Oregon and their parents only think they are getting an adequate education. Less than half of such graduating students are rated as by ACT as adequately prepared for college.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    I’m sure Russ Dondero has genuine concern for the problem, but let’s face it, even if we took his argument as intellectually based, rather than slapped together income disparity boilerplate, it doesn’t get us anywhere.

    We simply can’t begin a reform of the education system by saying step one is to eliminate income disparity and step two is to throw even more money at the schools. Those might be great things to do, but telling a kid currently in 5th grade his education is going to have to suck until we accomplish an entire economic reordering of our society is absurd.

    In short, the reason why a child in Oregon is receiving substandard has nothing to do with the fact that Warren Buffets secretary makes 20 times what his parents do.

    Yes, it is harder to get a great education if ones parents are destitute. That’s an impediment, not a barrier, to a good education. The poor student can learn. It is possibly harder because he has more things to contend with due to his parents being poor, but learning can happen.

    A barrier is a lot different than an impediment. A barrier is something that cannot be changed, and right now the barrier to a poor child getting a good education is if he goes to a lousy school.

    The child in a destitute family can get a good education in a good school, he just might have to work a lot harder due to his economic circumstance. The child of a poor family can go no where, no matter how hard he works, if he is in a crap school. Throw some more government benefits at his family and you have possibly eliminated income disparity, but he is still in a crap school and still will suffer for it.

    I frankly am not sure which is more absurd: SB1581’s tried and true way of avoiding the problem, and the wrath of teachers unions, by establishing another bureaucracy that accomplishes nothing – or hand wringing with the prayer wheel of “income disparity” “fully funded” mantras spinning around. 

    • 3H

      “A barrier is a lot different than an impediment.

      No, they are synonomous.  They mean essentially the same thing. 

      • Rupert in Springfield

         Nope. A barrier stops you, and impediment slows you.

        • 3H

          Depends upon the impediment.  A barrier is a type of impediment. 

        • 3H

          If you look them up in thesaurus… they are both linked as an obstruction..

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