Friday, June 19, 2009

"Education in Oregon—The House the OEA Built"

Dennis Richardson is a fellow attorney here in Southern Oregon and he is a friend of mine. He is also a State Representative in the Oregon Legislature. Today I revived an email newsletter he regularly sends out. It is as follows:

Rep. Richardson's Newsletter
June 19, 2009
Education in Oregon—The House the OEA Built
Who should decide the best way to educate an individual child, the teacher’s union or the parents? Today’s newsletter is about the on-going struggle for power in Oregon’s educational system.

No one doubts the power and influence the Oregon Education Association (teachers’ union) has in the Capitol. In fact, when the Democrats regained power in the House of Representatives, we said in jest, “This is the House the OEA built.” No one is laughing now. The Willamette Weekly recently revealed the OEA has used its influence to get a state-employed attorney to draft politically charged, pro-OEA language for legislation intended to strangle OEA competition. The OEA lobbyist asked the Dept. of Education attorney to draft provisions in direct contradiction of Oregon’s State Board of Education. And the attorney did it. To see how subversive the OEA and its union representatives’ actions have become in legislative politics, read the Willamette Weekly’s article, the letter from State Board of Education’s Chairman, Duncan Wyse, and the recently discovered e-mail from OEA union lobbyist Laurie Wimmer to Oregon Department of Education attorney, Cindy L. Hunt.

The OEA lobbyist’s requests were granted and the desired provisions were then buried in Senate Bill 767. Deep in SB 767 is found the following provision:

SECTION 13c. ORS 338.125 (2)(b) applies to all public charter schools operating in this state prior to, on or after the effective date of this 2009 Act unless: (1) A public charter school has been granted a waiver of the provisions of ORS 338.125 (2)(b) by the State Board of Education under ORS 338.025;

Although most people reading Section 13c of SB 767 would not give it a thought, a close reading shows it is intended to shut down any competition to OEA’s hold on public education. The statute referred to, ORS 338.125 (2)(b), states in relevant part the following:

“…if a public charter school offers any online courses as part of the curriculum of the school, then 50 percent or more of the students who attend the public charter school must reside in the school district in which the public charter school is located.”

The target of this wording is the Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA), which is part of Scio School District. Notwithstanding the small size and rural location of Scio School District, it had the vision to grasp the opportunity to create a computer-based, distance learning option for some special needs students. These are students who, for the most part, did not fit well in “bricks and mortar” public schools. These are students who had parents that knew and loved them, and were willing to make a change to ensure their children had a chance for educational success. One such parent was Kristine Ribali. Please spend a few minutes and watch Ms. Ribali. Listen to her story, then you decide who knows what is best for her son's education, the OEA or this mother. She has one daughter who remains in public school and one who now attends ORCA.

ORCA now has approximately 2500 students located statewide. In short, ORCA is a flourishing, well-organized, curricula-oriented alternative educational format known as a “virtual school.” By reading ORCA’s curricula, its frequent teacher-pupil interaction, its testing and tutoring that enables a student to actually learn and understand a lesson or concept before progressing to the next lesson, you will see why the OEA is so afraid of the competition, and so determined to crush such virtual schools with unattainable requirements.

After connecting the dots and recognizing the collusion and subterfuge the OEA has foisted on the Legislature in Senate Bill 767, I invite you to read the comments by parents who are powerless to stop the OEA, as it flexes its political muscle and drives through the Capitol the anti-parental choice, self-serving agenda contained in SB 767. If you agree that parents should have a voice in where and how their children should receive their education, if you are as disgusted as I am to learn how the OEA used a state-salaried attorney to circumvent our State Board of Education's Chairman, go to the "Contact Your Elected Officials" link below and make your voice heard. Senate Bill 767 will be considered in the House on Monday or Tuesday. If you think SB 767 and OEA's maneuvering should be defeated, make your voice heard. Express to your Representative whether or not you feel the educational option of ORCA should remain available to Oregon parents with special needs children.

There is a story about a teacher’s union lobbyist once being asked when the union would really start caring about children’s education. “When the children have union cards,” was the cogent reply.

I do not blame the OEA for doing what unions do. I do blame the people for voting for legislators who have allowed the OEA and the public section unions (SEIU and AFSCME) to gain such power and control over our legislature. If the voters knew how pervasive the public sector unions’ influence is here in the Capitol, there should be a public uprising, a march of 10,000 citizens circling the Capitol, shaking their fists and demanding immediate repeal of laws allowing unionization of public employees and laws requiring the state to deduct union dues from state employees’ wages -- money that can then be used to elect Representatives and Senators who will promote the unions’ agendas. It is truly a vicious political cycle.

Unfortunately, the voters have been too complacent, too willing to sell their birthright of freedom for a bowl of pottage flavored with political promises. Yet, there is hope.

I see clouds forming. I hear rumblings of the sleeping giant. I sense an awakening of a freedom-loving people. There is change in the air, a change we really can believe in. Not false promises of change by one willing to continue and even intensify his predecessor’s statist policies, but real change, a course correction, a reversion to, and renewal of principles that made America the land of the free and the hope of the world. Recently, a letter was written by Janet Contreras, a frustrated American from Arizona. Although it is long, if you want a sense of what the rising, non-partisan “tea party” mentality is about, you will want to read it. I am convinced Ms. Contreras speaks for millions of Americans who are waking up and beginning the campaign to reclaim our states and nation. Maybe you are one of them.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative

There are many fine, good, hardworking teachers and other public employees in Oregon. However, the teachers union and the other public employee unions here in Oregon now run the state. It takes courage to speak out against these unions as Dennis has and I salute him.