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Oregon lawmakers propose dozens of bills that address curriculum, parent choice, teachers and more


Over the next five months, legislators in Oregon will consider more than 100 proposals that could impact hundreds of thousands of students statewide.

Curriculum, school resource officers, parent choice, expanding the teacher workforce, funding, graduation standards and student equity are among the topics being discussed.

K-12 education will be a primary focus this year as newly inaugurated Gov. Tina Kotek listed it among her top three priorities.

“One of the governor’s top priorities is to ensure Oregon’s children are better served by early literacy, child care and K-12 policies and investments,” An Do, public affairs and communications director for the governor’s office, told the Capital Chronicle in a written statement. “Her team will be reviewing the education-related bills and engaging with legislators throughout the session to make sure Oregon is making progress on this shared goal.”

Matching national trends, Oregon is facing new and continuing educational issues, including gaps that existed before COVID-19 but have widened in the last three years.

Results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, for example, show declines in math and reading proficiency among Oregon fourth- and eighth-graders. These match the state’s own reports from the fall, showing students lost ground in core subjects during the pandemic.

“All of our education investments must be paired with specific strategies to ensure we know how the dollars that are spent are connected to the education priorities that Oregonians care about,” Do said, adding Kotek will release her recommended budget this week.

Here’s a look at nearly 30 education-related bills to follow this session:

School curriculum

A handful of bills this session seek to control what lessons can or cannot be taught in public schools – or they seek to make curriculum more accessible to parents.

School curriculum has been a popular topic across the country in recent years, with increasingly political conversations seeping into school board meetings, especially on topics concerning race relations, LGBTQ students and sex education. In many cases, parent advocates, typically from more conservative organizations, have argued materials are not appropriate or are not easily available for them to view.

Senate Bill 409, sponsored by Republican lawmakers, would require information about course materials to be posted on a district’s website. The school board would ensure the title of the course, or a description, as well as information on any textbooks or instructional materials, are posted. Additionally, the bill states a syllabus or written summary of the course should be listed, as well as links and content standards, when available.

House Bill 3024 would clarify the role of a school board in selecting, developing and implementing courses. School boards are primarily responsible for setting policies, according to the Oregon School Boards Association. They are not generally in charge of day-to-day operations.

House Bill 2180 and House Bill 3067, also brought forth by Republican lawmakers, seek to require public schools to “take special care to ensure that instruction is provided in a neutral manner that focuses on the academic subject matter and does not advocate the personal views of educators.”

According to the bill text for HB 3067, special care should be given to provide a diversity of views, while also encouraging debate, dialogue and an open sharing of ideas.

Oregon already has guidelines on political advocacy by state employees, which includes public school teachers.

School resource officers

Police officers have been assigned to schools in the U.S. since the 1950s but they didn’t become prevalent until the 1990s. Their responsibilities include conducting criminal and child abuse investigations, referring students to community resources and serving as liaisons to various school teams.

In recent years, they’ve become controversial. Research by the Center for Public Integrity and others shows they do little to reduce violence in schools and can cause harm.

In 2021, Salem-Keizer Public Schools cut formal ties with area police, and in 2020, Portland Public Schools did the same.

Advocates from groups such as Latinos Unidos Siempre, a youth nonprofit in Salem, have pushed for the removal of these officers for decades. They argue school police are a key part of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” involved in suspending and expelling students at higher rates, as well as giving students police referrals and charges in place of other disciplinary measures.

The American Bar Association describes the pipeline as a series of practices and policies that funnel children from public schools into juvenile and criminal systems. Data show this disproportionately impacts students of color, students with special needs and students from low-income families.

While some say they don’t feel safe with school officers present, others, including many parents, have said they don’t feel safe sending their kids to schools without them.

If passed, Oregon’s Senate Bill 19 would prohibit certain law enforcement officers, such as school resources officers or special campus security officers, from conducting interviews with someone under the age of 18 unless the person has consulted with an attorney. Similarly, Senate Bill 121 would prohibit the assignment of a law enforcement officer as a school resource officer without the school district’s approval. Both bills’ chief sponsor is Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale.

On the other end, three Republicans are the chief sponsors of Senate Bill 639, which would require the Oregon Department of Education to transfer funds to school districts to pay for school resource officers.

School choice and ‘parents’ rights’

The conversation of school choice and parents’ rights in recent years has shifted from private schools, vouchers and vaccines to parents being able to pick the style of school they want for their children and how much involvement and influence they have.

Last week, three Republican lawmakers introduced House Joint Resolution 19, proposing an amendment to the Oregon Constitution stating parents have the fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children.

“A parent is their child’s most important and influential teacher,” said. Rep. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, in a press release. “We must not only recognize this but encourage this.”

Senate bill 259 would allow any Oregon student to attend any public school in the state. Similar to current interdistrict transfer rules, the bill would require school districts to give students consent to attend, with limited exceptions.

Additionally, the bill would remove the cap on the percentage of students who may attend certain virtual public charter schools. This idea has been discussed in recent legislative sessions as families have responded to remote learning and their districts’ COVID protocols.

Also up for consideration this session is House Bill 2477, which would prohibit school boards from adopting procedures that restrict notifications to parents on certain subjects. Similar to others on curriculum, at the heart of this bill is the debate on parent involvement in school materials and social or medical services provided to a child while at school.

The bill would, in part, prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity before fourth grade without parental consent, and prohibit school districts from providing health care services if a parent were to withhold consent or decline a specified health care service.

Julie Cleve, reading specialist at Hallman Elementary School, helps studnets learn about length and measurement Wednesday March 13, 2019.
Fred Joe
The Salem Reporter
Julie Cleve, reading specialist at Hallman Elementary School, helps studnets learn about length and measurement Wednesday March 13, 2019.

The educator workforce

Several bills this session aim to address issues affecting teachers, support staff and other school workers. This is especially important as educator shortages persist.

Senate Bill 255 would require school districts making reductions in staff to prioritize seniority when determining which teachers to keep. Past bills have attempted to prioritize other groups, such as teachers of color.

House Bill 2636 would require every school district to ensure a school-based mental health professional and nurse is located at every school in the school district.

And Senate Bill 287 would direct Oregon’s Teacher Standards and Practices Commission to adopt rules to increase the number of teachers who are deaf or hard of hearing or who are trained to work with children who are.

Other solutions would focus on financial incentives.

House Bill 2177 would create an income tax credit for teachers in rural schools, while House Bill 2690would require school districts to pay classified employees no less than 10% more than minimum wage, or no less than 15% more if they work with students with special needs.

School quality and graduation standards

While Oregon has some of the most rigorous graduation requirements in the country – requiring 24 credits to earn a diploma, among other things – it continues to fall in the bottom half of states for graduation rates, according to the National Center of Education Statistics and other rankings.

The latest available data from the center shows the national rate was 86% in 2018-19, 6 points above Oregon. The state’s four-year graduation rate is up to 81.3%, according to data released Thursday.

Graduation rates are not the only indicator of student success, but they’re often looked at by lawmakers and advocates to gauge the health of the state’s K-12 system. This session, it seems lawmakers are looking for areas to improve and other ways to determine the quality of an Oregon education.

Multiple bills, including Senate Bill 292 and House Bill 2783, use the same language and would each require the education department to conduct a study to determine the “adequacy of education in public schools.”

House Bill 2264 would similarly require the department to determine how to best ensure all high school graduates are academically prepared to attend post-secondary institutions of education.

And Senate Bill 280 would require the department to identify more specific standards for online education.

Social justice and equity issues

Myriad bills address equity and issues affecting historically marginalized students.

Senate Bill 658 would establish a pilot program to provide increased access for homeless students and to improve these students’ academic achievements. In the 2021-22 school year, at least 18,358 students in Oregon public schools lacked a fixed residence. In the same year, just over half – 55.4% – of Oregon’s homeless students graduated on time.

House Bill 2281 would require school districts and public charter schools to designate a civil rights coordinator. In part, these coordinators would monitor alleged discrimination investigations and oversee efforts to avoid discrimination.

But perhaps the bill most likely to gain attention this session in this category is Senate Bill 246, championed by Sen. Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, which would remove the newly implemented requirement that menstrual products be provided in public charter schools and in bathrooms designated for males.

Oregon’s Menstrual Dignity Act came to be via House Bill 3294 in 2021 and requires free tampons and sanitary pads to be provided for all K-12 students in all public school buildings statewide. The bill passed with resounding support in the House and Senate where Democrats had a supermajority by controlling three-fifths of the vote.

Access to higher education

Multiple bills this session could make going to college more attainable.

Senate Bill 469, for example, would establish a scholarship program for qualifying Indian health profession students in exchange for their commitment to work at tribal service sites after graduation.

Senate Bill 449 would allow adopted, former foster children to have tuition and fees waived at certain institutions while pursuing undergraduate degrees.

And Senate Bill 424 would prohibit post-secondary schools from refusing to provide transcripts because the current or former student owes a debt to the institution.

Other bills to consider

Also worth noting this session:

  • Senate Bill 641 would prohibit the Oregon Health Authority or the Department of Education from adopting rules requiring immunization against COVID-19 as a condition of attendance in any school, children’s facility or post-secondary institution of education.
  • Senate Bill 651 would remove restrictions on school boards relating to the termination of a superintendent.
  • House Bill 2638 would direct school boards to ensure buildings regularly used by students have proper heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems.
  • Senate Bill 48 would restore the penalty for compulsory school attendance violations. The bill calls for a maximum punishment fine of $2,000.
  • House Bill 3030 would establish a Universal School Meal Account for the purpose of reimbursing school districts for certain costs incurred in providing breakfasts and lunches.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.