I’ve been thinking all day about how best to respond to Senate Bill 621, which appeared at the Oregon State Legislature this week. Nowhere in the bill does SB 621 mention the Oregon Education Association. It doesn’t have to. Besides, the teacher’s union prefers to work behind the scenes. In all public venues (on billboards as well as on their website, for instance) they claim to be fighting for Oregon’s kids. In fact, on their website they say “the top priority of the Oregon Education Association is to ensure that all students in Oregon receive a quality education.”
I challenge anyone to read SB 621 and conclude that the OEA is telling the truth.
Many of you do not have first-hand knowledge of how the teacher’s union in your state operates. Why would you? Unless you’re a teacher who has disagreed with union orthodoxy (or heaven forbid openly supported a candidate for office who supports school choice), or you’ve tried to open a charter school, or fought in the legislature for real education reform, you’d never come into contact with your state’s teacher’s union.
Sometimes I wish I were still ignorant of the union’s deviousness and power. But when you work in and around the public education system it’s impossible not to notice the high percentage of students who are not receiving the “quality education” the OEA claims to desire. The sad fact of the matter is that teacher’s unions are responsible for most of what’s wrong in today’s public education system. If their policies didn’t create the problems, they are often immovable objects to eliminating the problems that have developed.
The drop-out rate in this country hovers around 30%. For minorities, it’s much higher. That doesn’t even count the students who graduate without really being able to function at a high school level in reading and math. The dirty little secret of our public education system is that it’s not working for more than one-third of our kids.
Once I understood that fact and connected it to the devastating impact it has on real people””people I’ve met””I could not walk away from the fight for education reform.
Which brings us back to the OEA””the most powerful special interest group in the state of Oregon (and in nearly every other state as well).
Oregon passed its charter school bill in 1999, later than many other states. We were not an early adopter. However, since the charter school bill passed, more than 60 schools of choice have opened and they serve nearly 8,000 Oregon students. They account for less than 2% of Oregon’s public school students, but the OEA opposes them nonetheless.
SB 621 will require every charter school teacher to join the union and be licensed by the state bureaucracy. The bill will also empower the district monopolies to limit the number of students who can leave their schools and attend a charter school. Finally, the bill would close down the most successful charter school in the state, Oregon Connections Academy, where 1,500 students current attend school online.
The bill is sponsored by the Chair and Vice-Chair of the House Education Committee and the Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Just this month, the State of Utah took a giant leap forward in education reform by making every school in the state a school of choice (more below). Oregon, on the other hand, is preparing to return to the 20th Century by killing its charter school movement in its infancy.
Keep your eye on this bill as the OEA tries to close its powerful hand on charter schools and crush the parents and children who attend them.