Oregon lawmakers to consider bill aimed at giving families more choice in how their child gets an education

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon lawmakers are looking at more than 250 bills in the month-long session. One of the bills is a proposal that would give more parents a choice as to how their child gets an education.

Right now in the state of Oregon, once a school district has 3% or more of its students enrolled in a virtual public charter school outside the district, it can generally start denying requests.

School districts get thousands of dollars for each student which helps funding for public schools and is the main reason the 3% cap came into existence. While public schools rely on that money, some parents say the cap takes away parent choice.

“Our oldest daughter, she was being bullied at school,” said Danny Zimmerman.

Zimmerman said online options within his daughter’s district didn’t work for her. So, he tried to enroll his 8th-grade daughter in a virtual public charter school.

“I hit send. Within 10 minutes of me hitting said, we got the denial,” Zimmerman said.

The district, Lincoln County Schools, confirmed the denial was due to reaching the 3% cap. Zimmerman is not alone in his frustration.

“I had a lot of constituents email me about it and I felt that it was necessary to do something,” said Oregon State Representative Jack Zika, who represents Redmond and the surrounding area. He is sponsoring House Bill 4119.

“The bill, what it does, just removes that 3% cap,” said Zika. “If your child thrives in a different school, then that’s what you should be able to do.”

A similar bill is also in the Oregon State Senate.

Those in support of keeping the cap in place, cite lower graduation rates and “poor educational quality” associated with virtual public charter schools. In a statement, Oregon Education Association president, Reed Scott-Schwalbach wrote in part, “…raising the virtual enrollment cap also creates incredible instability in our state’s ability to guarantee the resources our students need to thrive for Oregon’s public school system.”

Data provided to KGW by Oregon Charter Academy shows six out of a list of 16 virtual public charter schools had four-year graduation rates that were above the state’s graduation rate of 80.6%. A couple of virtual charter schools fell into each of the 70%, 60%, 50%, 40% and 20% ranges. In the state of Oregon, Allison Galvin who is the executive director at Oregon Charter Academy, said there are about 22 virtual public charter schools.

Galvin said 82% of students who entered Oregon Charter Academy in their senior year were already credit-deficient but on average 90% of students who attend the school for their entire senior year will graduate regardless of credit deficiency.

Scott-Schwalbach also categorized the virtual school system as for-profit, though Galvin said all virtual public charter schools in Oregon are nonprofit schools except for a few managed by for-profit corporations.

The 3% cap came into effect more than a decade ago. Galvin said it is obsolete because technology and the pandemic have changed online learning.

“We hear from families, multiple families a week honestly, about being denied,” said Todd Schweitzer, executive director of Frontier Charter Academy.

Schweitzer and Galvin say students in one district may not have the same choice as students in another.

“Those are the unintended consequences, that we have created inequitable academic experiences for students in the state,” Galvin said.

As for Zimmerman’s daughter, she was eventually able to enroll in an online public charter school, but only after Zimmerman said the family went to great lengths to establish residency for her in an entirely different district.

“The same 10 minutes that it took Lincoln County School District to deny our application, [the other] school district approved it in the same 10 minutes. It just seems so arbitrary. It’s really discriminatory based on where you live,” said Zimmerman.

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