Adviser: Governor's education plan retains local control

Adviser: Governor's education plan retains local control

PORTLAND, Ore. - The top education adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber says the governor’s proposed education investment board that would be formed in his office is not about taking local control away from parents and teachers but about creating a streamlined budgeting system.

Springfield public schools superintendent Nancy Golden, senior education policy adviser to Kitzhaber, said the governor’s proposed Oregon Education Investment Board is “basically a budgeting to outcome process.”

Some have gotten nervous about Senate Bill 909, which would allow the governor to form the board to oversee a unified education system, because they fear it will strip local control of schools and stamp out innovation.

“I think a lot of people are interpreting it as something very different than what it is,” Golden said. “It is about a seamless system, and it is about the governor budgeting to outcomes when he presents his budget (to the Legislature).”

The bill would allow the governor to nominate 12 people for service on the board. They would need to be confirmed by the Senate. The 12 members and the governor, or his appointee, would strike out on a mission to improve efficiencies in the education system and align funding to outcomes. The members of the board would serve at the pleasure of the governor after their confirmation.

The bill advanced out of the Senate Education and Workforce Committee April 21 to Ways and Means after a relatively short public hearing and work session at the Capitol in which the committees’ two Republican senators expressed concern over the bill. While Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, voted against it, the other Republican senator, Frank Morse, serving the Albany area, voted yes but expressed concern that the legislative process was being slighted.

Democratic committee members Sens. Mark Hass, Chip Shields and Suzanne Bonamici voted yes.

After being sworn in to serve as governor for the third time last January, Kitzhaber created, under executive order, the Oregon Education Investment Team. Its mission is to make sure the work of his education transition team continues as governor.

The governor kicked off public testimony at an April 5 hearing on the bill and said the team “was created essentially in lieu of the Oregon Education Investment Board ... so we’ll transfer that - the ongoing work (of the investment team) to the Oregon Investment Board.”

Concerns at that public hearing and one on April 21 have centered on two things: Consolidation of power within the governor’s office and the quick rate at which the bill is moving through the Legislature.

“I’m supportive of the efforts of the governor,” Morse said on April 21. “But I have to share publicly a concern over the process: This is the largest sea change in the history of education in Oregon.”

He said the public and the Legislature haven’t had time to weigh in on such a potentially massive change to the state’s education system.

George has focused his criticisms of the bill on a fear that the Education Investment Board would squash local control and innovation.

“I have not seen that consolidation necessarily means efficiency in government,” he said before voting against the bill in committee. “I’m concerned about a consolidation of power and really taking away more control from parents, students and teachers.”

He expressed the same concern about the bill in the previous public hearing on April 5. That hearing lasted just over an hour.

But Golden said in an interview this week that the bill’s intention is not to take away control from parents, teachers or school boards.

“It’s honestly anything but that. The governor relies on local boards - all those local structures to get the job done.”

The governor would use the information gathered by the board to form his budget that he would present to the Legislature. The Legislature would still need to approve it, a check on the governor’s power.

But it’s clear the state would be taking a larger role in education if the bill becomes law.

“One of the problems we have today is that the state really, particularly with our primary and secondary system, is a passive funder: We write a check and send it out to the school districts,” Kitzhaber said during his testimony. “It seems to me that the state needs to be an active partner in achieving educational objectives.”

But he said the state would mainly help identify and encourage innovation and to ensure that innovation is “disseminated throughout the districts.”

Additionally, Golden said concerns that educators and students would experience a sort of policy whiplash from governor to governor, each of whom may have different ideas about education and funding it, likely would not exist.

“It will be a system that probably no matter who became governor, they wouldn’t want that to happen, because I think every governor wants more graduates (and) kids to come to kindergarten with the skills to be successful,” she said. “It’s going to be a system that makes such sense that people will support it.”

Senate Bill 909 is still a work in progress and has been modified several times to address some of the concerns people have had about the bill. Golden said still more revisions are underway to create a bill more focused on making 0-20 seamless and budgeting to outcomes.

Those outcomes that students are to achieve are still being hammered out but Kitzhaber’s education team has drafted 10. They include ensuring children enter kindergarten ready to read, reading by the end of first grade and reading at grade level in the third grade.

Other outcomes include being on track for graduation at the end of ninth grade, earning college or vocational credits in high school and access to post-secondary education and being enrolled in it within one year of graduation.

History of Senate Bill 909: