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.