Legislature Considers Anti-Virtual Charter School Bill Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m., the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education will hold a public hearing for a bill that essentially would force Oregon’s virtual charter schools to close.

The bill (SB 927) closely resembles an idea that the OEA (Oregon Education Association, a union) proposed last year to the Oregon State Board of Education. The bill in its current form would:

• Force all existing virtual charter schools to close and to reopen as alternative schools, which in Oregon are generally only for at-risk students.

• Make existing districts the creators and providers of online content, managed by a consortium called the Oregon Option Consortium. Individual districts would be able to purchase courses from the consortium (which would be run by the Oregon Virtual School District).

• Each student could enroll in the consortium’s classes only if a district-appointed advisory team decides the classes are suitable for the student.

Late last month, the Oregon Senate’s Education Committee lobbed this bill to the Ways and Means Committee to avoid a deadline that would have automatically killed the bill had it remained in the Education Committee. Yet the bill’s most prominent supporters – Sen. Bonamici (a sponsor and member of the Senate Education Committee) and the OEA – both insist that they do not want to close anyone’s school. In fact, this harsh bill remained on the table, even after they both stated in a hearing last month that they supported amendments that would allow existing virtual charter schools to remain open (though it would halt the creation of any new virtual charter schools).

Despite the apparent unanimous sentiment, the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee sent the bill, without first removing those onerous provisions, to the Ways and Means Committee. Even if the Ways and Means Committee does adopt the amendments, this bill still suffers from enough problems that it should be scrapped. With such amendments, the bill’s main goal would be to create one main provider of online material for districts to use. It would heap red tape upon red tape, creating yet another administrative agency.

Bill supporters argue that this consortium would give more students access to online education. Yet, any increase in choice is illusory. This bill states that all districts would be required to allow “eligible” students access to the consortium of online courses. Yet, the district would be left to define who is and is not “eligible.” The bill also leaves other loopholes for districts to avoid allowing students more choices. Without increasing educational opportunities for students this bill has no legitimate purpose.

Currently, many districts are already offering online courses, and these options continue to grow each year, in many districts. Though it would not make it impossible for districts to compete against the Consortium’s online courses, it probably would discourage such competition. Unless they want to see online education become as cookie-cutter as most traditional K-12 public education, legislators should kill this bill.

Please take a moment to tell legislators to oppose this bill, SB 927. The Oregon Virtual Public Schools Alliance has set up a quick and easy way for you to send your concerns to all members of the Ways and Means Committee. Visit http://www.oregonvirtualschools.org/actioncenter to quickly make a difference.

Watch & listen live online: http://www.leg.state.or.us/listn/asx/HRF.asx
Listen after the hearing at http://www.leg.state.or.us/cgi-bin/list_archives.cgi?archive.2011s&JWMED&Ways+and+Means+Subcommittee+on+Education

Christina Martin is a policy analyst for the School Choice Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.