2023 Should Be Oregon’s Year of Opportunity for K-12 Education – Portland Tribune | Team Cansler

Parents need to have a lot more choices in how their kids are raised in Oregon

A survey of Oregonians conducted by Nelson Research and sponsored by the Oregon Moms Union (an education advocacy group) in June found that most Oregonians are dissatisfied with the K-12 education system.

It also showed that 73% of Oregon voters, including 60% of Democrats, support the school choice. This should come as no surprise as national polls consistently show overwhelming support for school choice across all demographics and political affiliations.

Families increasingly believe that one-size-fits-all public schools don’t work for all students and think parents should be able to choose between the schools and resources that best meet their children’s educational and developmental needs. In the past year, more than 20 states have created or expanded school choice laws. Thirty-two states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have all adopted programs that allow students to get what they need to succeed in school.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents saw that their children were not being well taken care of by their district schools. Many of them are now voting “with their feet” for other educational options. Enrollments in private schools, charter schools, and home schools have increased in Oregon and nationwide since 2020. Portland public schools have forecast that this year’s district enrollment will decrease due to a number of factors — including enrollment opportunities. Public schools have lost 30,000 students nationwide since 2019-20.

Oregonians have elected a new governor and state legislators to work together in Salem in January. New leadership offers Oregon lawmakers ways to respond to parents’ call for choices in K-12 education. Here are three ways heads of state can expand options for students in the next legislative session:

• Providing Oregon Parents with a “Money Back Guarantee”. Government education funding is allocated per child and paid directly to district schools regardless of outcomes or parental satisfaction. Turning some of these funds into student portable accounts would allow parents to find the best solution for their students’ success.

Last summer, the Arizona Legislature expanded the nation’s first Education Savings Account (ESA) program, allowing every Arizona child to be eligible to exercise the state’s ESA option. Arizona law allows 90% of state funding per student per year (approximately $7,000 per child) to follow the student to private schools, homeschooling, learning pod, tutoring, or other educational services chosen by the student’s family. An ESA program in Oregon like Arizona’s would expand student choice, ease the burden on struggling schools and districts, and make schools accountable to the parents and students they serve.

• Support Oregon’s thriving charter public schools by raising the statutory charter enrollment cap, currently 3% of students in each district. Removing the cap would allow successful and popular charters to meet proven student demand.

• Expanding public school district transfer policies to allow parents to choose between existing public options. This would help incentivize schools to respond to parents’ needs and concerns and reward public schools that achieve better results.

A shift in mentality from top-down, bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all educational mandates to expanded parental choices would work wonders for students and encourage improvements in schools. Oregon’s educational landscape has become more diverse and innovative. It’s time for Oregon parents to take full advantage of opportunities for children and to align their students’ needs and goals with teachers, schools, and resources that best serve them.

Kathryn Hickok is executive vice president at the Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s research organization for open market public policies, and program director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon

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