Oregon House votes down charter schools bill

SALEM — State lawmakers on Monday rejected a bill that would have made it easier to open a charter school, handing Democrats a political victory one week after Republicans won the year's first partisan fight.

Three Republicans joined most Democrats in defeating the measure on a 28-32 vote.

Monday's vote, one week after the GOP picked up enough Democratic support to win a hard-fought battle over business tax breaks, showed that both parties can muscle their agenda through Oregon's evenly divided House of Representatives.

The charter schools measure, HB 2287, would have removed some barriers to new charter schools and allowed charter-seekers to go around local school boards in some cases.

Supporters said it was designed to stop school boards from throwing road blocks at proposed charter schools, but opponents said it was unneeded and would remove local control from the process.

Wingard said he was stunned by the opposition to his bill. "What is so massive about 2287 that it would bring the wrath of some of the most powerful education forces in this state?" he said. "Truly, colleagues, I am baffled."

Republican Reps. Bill Garrard of Klamath Falls, Bob Jenson of Pendleton and Greg Smith of Heppner voted against the bill. Rep. Betty Komp of Woodburn was the only Democrat to support it.

Oregon's 108 charter schools have independent boards of directors and are operated as semi-autonomous facilities under a contract with the local school board.

They get state funding for the students they teach but are not subject to some of the laws and regulations that traditional schools must come into compliance with.

Democrats said they don't have a problem with charter schools but said Wingard's bill wasn't necessary.

"This is not a vote against charter schools," said Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland.

"It is a vote to say that the current law works pretty well. There's no pressing need to change it."

Supporters see charter schools as laboratories to experiment with education reform ideas or to provide specialized programs that can't be implemented in a traditional public school setting.

Critics say state funding should have the same strings attached, whether it goes to traditional or charter schools.

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