Current Legislative Session

Current Legislative Session

It’s never been more clear: Equitable, safe, and fully funded schools are essential for Oregon’s students, families and communities. In 2021 Oregon educators are united in standing up for our students through a year of incredible challenges and as the pandemic continues to affect every aspect of our educational system. We remain committed to meet our students educational needs in ways that are safe for them and their families and safe for educators and their families. The pandemic has opened the eyes of the state to the vast racial and socioeconomic disparities our students face that educators see play out in the classroom every day. The decisions made about education budgets and education policy in 2021 will have effects far into the future. We must reach higher and work harder as a state to create a more equitable education system that meets the needs of all students no matter their zip code or color of their skin and ensure that we have a world-class education workforce to help them reach their full potential. The 2021 legislature must deliver on:

High Quality Schools and Education Funding

Fully fund K-12 Budget at current service level of $9.6 billion to prevent cuts and safely reopen schools. Our schools must have the resources they need over the next two years to successfully and safely transition students to in-person learning while also dealing while meeting ongoing fixed costs. Districts will have financial challenges they have never faced before in upgrading facilities to COVID safe ventilation systems, increasing space for smaller class sizes, hiring additional health care staff for testing, monitoring and managing a school during a global pandemic, increasing educator and support staff for hybrid learning, increasing mental health and other support systems for students who have been through a traumatic and defining time in their young lives and the myriad other new challenges that will arise in this unprecedented time.

Protect Student Success Act funding to reduce disparities and meet rising mental health needs - When lawmakers passed historic education funding in 2019, they started our state on a new future. The Student Success Act funding will be essential in helping Oregon rise to the occasion and address the glaring disparities and lack of early learning and child care support that surfaced during the pandemic.

SSA funding is dedicated to:

  • Increasing academic achievement and reducing academic disparities for students of color, students with disabilities, bilingual students and students navigating poverty, homelessness and foster care.
  • Meeting students’ mental and behavioral health needs, which is more important than ever. We must be ready to address the long-term effect on our students of living through a global crisis that affected every part of their young lives.
  • Increasing early learning options for families. During the pandemic it became clear that Oregon’s inadequate early learning and child care system left parents struggling and have forced women - including educators - to drop out of the workforce.
  • Supporting local initiatives - We need to ensure the pandemic is not a permanent setback for our schools. SSA funding supports initiatives such as student success equity groups, summer learning programs and expanded school nutrition access.

Fully fund community colleges. Oregon’s community colleges have done an extraordinary job helping their students during the pandemic, transitioning to remote learning and supporting students who oftentimes have families of their own. In addition, as Oregon starts to pull out of the economic impacts of COVID, community colleges will be essential in providing workforce training to meet the needs of a post-pandemic world. They must be fully funded at the current service level of $702 million.

Ensure that Oregon’s revenue policies don’t increase disparities and respond to pandemic-related shortfalls. Oregon educators see wealth disparities play out in their classrooms and communities. We support ending the unnecessary tax breaks that benefit the top 1% and most profitable corporations at the expense of Oregon families.

Keep school districts under local control to improve graduation rates. With intense focus on success, Oregon’s graduation rates have been steadily improving, but charter schools continue to fall behind. We must ensure local school districts are fully empowered to oversee charter schools and not allow them to drain resources from public education. As Oregon works to reduce disparities in all our institutions, we must ensure that resources are not drained from local public schools and that we continue on our path of improving graduation rates.

Make assessments work for students. Testing requirements must be a teaching tool that allows for meaningful individual assessments to allow educators to put the needs of the students ahead of the needs of bureaucrats, both in this year of COVID and in the future.

Moving Equity Forward

Oregon teachers see the results of inequity in our classrooms every day. We call attention through our advocacy to the glaring disparities in academic outcomes of students of color and low-income students. In this time of increased attention to racial injustice we must move quickly to take action. We support:

Recruitment/retention of educators of color. Research shows that one of the most important actions a school can take to improve academic outcomes for students of color is to hire educators of color. We need to do everything we can to recruit and retain educators of color in Oregon by:

  • Abolishing the biased Educative Teacher Performance Assessment credentialing system;
  • Protecting total compensation including retirement benefits and health care benefits to allow us to recruit educators of color in Oregon.
  • Enhance racial justice policies that make Oregon a more equitable community for educators of color as well as our students.

Increase investments in high poverty schools. The quality of our schools should not depend on the zip code of our students. For generations Oregon has under-invested in students navigating poverty, leaving them with fewer resources and reduced opportunities. We have a chance to start to remedy that by more fairly distributing the state school budget through an adjusted formula that increases the poverty weight from .25 to .5, which would double the funding for students who need it the most.

Workforce protections

Ensure safe and healthy working/learning environments - Prior to the pandemic, Oregon educators successfully raised the alarm about the growing problem of classroom disruptions in school. When students are experiencing trauma or hardship at home, it plays out in the classroom. There is still inadequate support for high-needs students leading to outbursts and injuries. In 2019 Oregon teachers reported that at least half of them had to clear their classroom because of risky behaviors by students. We must ensure that the work launched by the disrupted learning task force continues.

Give educators a voice when setting class sizes. Overcrowding leads to lower academic outcomes, less individual attention, and greater burnout among educators. Classroom size must be a mandated part of the conversation when educators and administrators sit down at the bargaining table to negotiate contracts so that the parties can together determine what works best for their schools.

Fair compensation for part-time community college teachers. Part-time community college teachers are required to have the same education and experience as full-time faculty but they receive less hourly pay and less access to health insurance.

Protect educator retirement benefits. Oregon teachers earn 22% less than people with the same education level in the private sector. PERS benefits help to narrow that gap. Oregon must do everything it can to guard against further reductions in benefits. Today 30% of Oregon educators are eligible to retire and we cannot afford to lose a third of the workforce.

OEA'S TOP LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

and where we currently stand in the process, as of end of May 2021

IssueBill1st Chamber2nd ChamberGovernor
K-12 BudgetSB 5514PassedIn Process
CC BudgetSB 702In Process
Class Size / CaseloadSB 580PassedIn Process
Gun SafetySB 554PassedPassedSigned
Part Time Faculty Health CareHB 3007In Process
Essential StudiesSB 744PassedIn Process
Opt-OutSB 602PassedIn Process
PERS IAP ThresholdHB 2906PassedIn Process
Poverty Weight FixHB 2501In Process
Extended Enrollment FixSB 743In Process

Gun Violence Prevention (SB 554): This bill holds two important concepts that the OEA strongly supports. The initial language of the bill enables public buildings such as the State Capitol, the Portland Airport, colleges and universities, and school districts to ban weapons on their grounds and buildings. OEA has fought for similar concepts for education gun bans since 1999. The second concept is Safe Storage and it requires secure storage and locking mechanisms for firearms and creates owner liability for failure to comply. We believe this will prevent accidental child tragedies of found guns; lower the teen suicide rate; put a speed bump in overheated moments where crimes of passion might otherwise ensure – such as in domestic violence situations; and of course, lessen the likelihood of guns being stolen for use in active shooter events, such as the Clackamas Town Center shooting of several years ago. This win is a long time coming, and it represents a major victory for the gun violence prevention coalition of which OEA is a founding member.

Part Time Faculty Health Care (HB 3007): We continue to fight hard for part time faculty health care. Currently it remains in Ways and Means waiting to see if it get the funding (about $12 million) it needs to move and become a reality. The big sticking point remains how health care is distributed. Some legislators like the thought of the bill as written where the state is responsible for administration. Others want to see the institutions take it on themselves but have not answered what kind of triggers might be used to ensure folks who deserve health care are getting it. Once the questions around responsibility are answered, we will be able to advocate for its funding.

Essential Skills test pause and study (SB 744): OEA has worked for several years to eliminate the Essential Skills test that can act as a one-size-fits all standardized test barrier to graduation for students who may otherwise have more than enough proficiency and skill to graduate and go on to great success. SB 744 will pause the use of the essential skills test for two years, while the Department of Education is directed to study the efficacy of the test in addition to reviewing graduation requirements generally, and making findings available to the Legislature.

Continuation of summative assessment opt-out rights (SB 602): In 2015, OEA passed historic legislation creating the strongest standardized testing student rights in the country. The bill created the Student Testing Bill of rights, as well as ensuring students could be opted out of summative assessments for any reason. Those opt-out rights were set to expire at the end of this year. SB 602 will eliminate the sunset on this right so that students or their parents may choose not to take SBAC summative assessments if they determine it is not in their best interest.

PERS IAP Threshold (HB 2906): This bill will increase the threshold that triggers the redirect of PERS member Individual Account Plan contributions from $2,500 per month to $3,333.33 per month. This will be especially impactful for those members that struggle to make ends meet, saving them thousands of dollars that would otherwise be redirected away from their retirement.

Poverty Weight Fix (HB 2501): OEA’s poverty weight fix was blocked by an unpublished Stand for Children concept (sponsored by Speaker Kotek) that forced our bill, as well as several other formula proposals into a work group that has been meeting for months. Stand for Children wants a voucher-like “money follows the child” scheme that ties the weights to a spending mandate for each element and removes the funds from the SSF and converts the sum into smaller grants focused on “accountability”. OEA is pushing for a doubling of the poverty weight but stopping other proposals that would seriously undermine the formula’s equalization purpose and also take the state into constitutionally murky waters with race-based weighting and spending mandates. OEA is hoping that whatever finally emerges from this work group will be ARPA funded to neutralize district fund shifts.

Extended Enrollment Fix (SB 743): OEA’s and COSA’s bill to fix the likelihood of for-profit virtual schools reaping a windfall for COVID-related enrollments that return next year to their resident school districts is proceeding through the Senate and will soon be in its second chamber. We believe that this technical fix to the formula will save many millions of dollars that would otherwise flow to out-of-state virtual vendors for the year after they are no longer “educating” Oregon students.

To learn more about each of these priority bills, read our latest Politics & You column in the Spring 2021 edition of Today's OEA magazine. For additional questions, reach out to your OEA Government Relations team: oea-gr@oregoned.org.