The Oregon Legislature began its 2023 long session on Jan. 9 under the leadership of newly-elected Governor Tina Kotek and over a dozen first time State Representatives and Senators, who have named education one of their main focuses. Poor graduation rates and standardized test scores following almost two years of COVID-19 distance learning in Oregon made schools a battleground of the 2022 midterm elections. While Democrats lost seats in the November election, they still hold a 35-25 majority in the State House and a 17-12 majority in the State Senate, enough votes to dictate priorities.
The Oregon Legislature has introduced over 2000 total bills and resolutions this session, hundreds of which touch on education, from early childcare to community college. If signed into law, here are some bills that could have the biggest impact on students and staff in our schools:
Republicans have introduced a number of bills which would impose restrictions and increase transparency of schools’ curriculum. Senate Bill 409, if passed, would require course materials, including the title of any offered courses, a description, a syllabus, and any used textbooks, to be listed on the school district website. Another proposed law, House Bill 3067, would require that schools take “special care to ensure that instruction and assessments are provided in a neutral and objective manner.” The law includes provisions saying there will be a “special emphasis given to instruction in … obedience for the law, respect for the national flag.”
New Graduation Requirements
Senate Bill 3, proposed in part by Senate President Rob Wagner, would require students to complete one credit of future planning as a requirement for a high school diploma. The course would likely be similar to existing Freshman Inquiry programs, although the bill requires the State Board of Education to develop specific curriculum and content standards for the class. House Bill 3094 and Senate Bill 743 would establish a half-credit of personal financial education as a requirement for high school diploma. It’s unclear if some civics credits, mathematics, or other classes would satisfy the requirement.
School Resource Officers
Three bills have been introduced to address contracted police officers, better known as resource officers’ presence in schools. 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 a minor unless the person has consulted with an attorney. Senate Bill 121 would put the ball in each school district’s court, allowing them to prohibit the school resource officers following the given board’s approval. Republicans have also introduced a bill which would require the Oregon Department of Education to give funds to school districts for school resource officers.
Free Community College in Jeopardy
Currently, the Oregon Promise fully funds two years at any Oregon community college for eligible students. Lawmakers are examining options to phase the program out, reported the Oregonian; Senator Michael Dembrow, representing parts of Portland, told the outlet that talks from the Joint Task Force on Student Success for Underrepresented Students in Higher Education suggested that the legislature will hear a bill this session that would sunset the fund. Senate Bill 262 is currently awaiting an amendment which will reveal the intention of the legislature on the topic. Lawmakers did suggest that if the Oregon Promise was phased out, funds may be redirected to the Oregon Opportunity Grant, which provides need-based higher-ed scholarships for Oregon students.
Other Bills To Watch
Senate Bill 48 would create a penalty for compulsory school attendance violations with fines up to $2000 dollars.
House Bill 2281, requested by former Governor Kate Brown, would require schools to designate a civil rights coordinator to “investigate complaints alleging discrimination” and
“oversee efforts to avoid the occurrence of discrimination.”
Senate Bill 246 would repeal the Menstrual Dignity Act which requires that schools provide free menstrual products in men’s and women’s bathrooms.