Slew of education bills and record-setting school funding passed by 2023 Oregon Legislature

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
June 28, 2023 12:09 a.m.

New laws now govern early literacy, support for Pacific Islander students, special education and other facets of public education in Oregon.

In addition to a record $10.2 billion in funding going to Oregon public schools for the next two years, lawmakers passed a slew of education bills this session related to early literacy, special education, and supporting teachers.

Here’s a wrap-up of some of the new education-related legislation passed during the 2023 session:

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Early Literacy

House Bill 3198 was one of Gov. Tina Kotek’s top priorities this session and was top of mind for advocates across the state. Oregon students are behind in reading, and this bill invests $140 million in the Early Literacy Success Initiative, a dedicated effort to improve literacy for the youngest Oregonians through three new grant programs.

Through these grants, funds will go to school districts to help improve reading instruction, reduce disparities among student groups who have been historically underserved, train teachers and staff and offer summer programs for students who need the most help.

Civil rights coordinators

House Bill 2281 requires school districts to bring on at least one civil rights coordinator to help oversee investigations of complaints alleging discrimination and make sure the district is compliant with state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination.

The Oregon Department of Education says they’ve seen a large increase in discrimination complaints - from 36 in 2019 to 163 in 2022, according to testimony shared during hearings for HB 2281. Tigard-Tualatin superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith said school districts like hers have been working on supporting students’ civil rights for years.

“We have a number of layers that address the various issues,” Rieke-Smith said. “What we will need to do based on this legislation is go back, look at those systems, and then re-align them so that there is clarity as to who you ping about what.”

Like the state, Tigard-Tualatin has also seen a rise in discrimination complaints. Rieke-Smith, who is also the president-elect of the Oregon Association for School Executives, said this new legislation might unfairly affect small school districts where superintendents and other leaders might be wearing multiple hats

“We have to be mindful that as they craft this pack of legislation that it doesn’t put any additional burden on them,” she said.

The legislation allows districts to contract with Education Service Districts for a civil rights coordinator as well.

Statewide plan for Pacific Islander students

House Bill 3144 creates a new student success plan for Pacific Islander students. There are already established plans for Black students, Latino students, American Indian and Alaskan Native students, and LGBTQ2SIA+ students. The new plan dedicates $2 million to create an advisory group focused on the state’s 12,000 Pacific Islander students.

Representative Hoa Nguyen, a first-time lawmaker this session, was one of the bill’s chief sponsors. She said students and community members worked hard to make this bill pass.

“They really wanted to make sure that they were advocating for the resources they felt like they needed,” Nguyen said.

The four-year graduation rate for Pacific Islander students was 69.8% in 2022, compared to 80.6% for all students. Chronic absenteeism has also been a problem for this student group, Nguyen noted, an issue only exacerbated by the pandemic.

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Other bills

House Bill 3235 creates a $1000 child tax credit for families making $25,000 or less, House Bill 3201 directs the Oregon Business Development Department to provide funds to increase broadband access, and House Bill 3014 allows school transportation funding to be used for “alternative transportation” like walking school buses.

Other legislation will add credits to Oregon’s graduation requirements for personal finance education, require schools to implement a curriculum related to fentanyl risks, and push ODE to develop training for teachers ahead of the implementation of new ethnic studies standards.

Bills supporting special education students, staff, also passed

Several bills responded to issues affecting students and school operations, including special education and the teacher workforce.

Special education

Senate Bill 819 requires that school districts cannot place a student on an abbreviated or shortened school day without consent from a parent. The bill outlines provisions that school districts must follow if a student is placed on an abbreviated schedule. Senate Bill 756 allows any school district staff - including classified staff - who work with special education students - to have access to the students individualized education plan. And Senate Bill 758 mandates that parents receive records related to their child “without undue delay” and also says a school district “may not prohibit or discourage” a school employee or volunteer from reporting violations to special education law or participating in investigations related to special education.

Staff support

House Bill 2708 and House Bill 3383 signify broader support for classified staff, a category that includes school secretaries, bus drivers, and paraeducators. The first codifies Classified School Employees Week as the first full week in March, while the latter expands the state board of education to include a representative for classified staff.

Teachers

Senate Bill 283 came out of a workgroup seeking solutions to staffing challenges in Oregon schools. The bill will create a statewide system to track the educator workforce, mentorship grants to bring in new teachers and a pay bump for staff who work in special education.

What didn’t pass

Among the hundreds of bills that didn’t pass this session were bills to fund summer learning programs, create a pilot program to support students experiencing homelessness, and bills that would allow more oversight for school districts from the state.

Senate Bill 1045 came out of an audit from the Oregon Secretary of State that said ODE should provide more oversight for school districts but faced opposition from statewide education organizations. It died in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

In a statement, Kotek’s office said the Governor was “disappointed” that the bill did not advance.

“The bill, which had bipartisan support coming out of the Senate Education Committee, would have increased communication, transparency, and accountability within public education, and given more authority to the Oregon Department of Education to take proactive steps to prevent bias and discrimination in school districts,” the statement read. “She’ll continue working with legislative leaders to advance these goals.”

House Bill 2710 would have required school districts to explain how they spent state funds and would have created a committee to look into transparency in school district reporting of funds.

A group of education organizations that included Foundations for a Better Oregon, FACT Oregon, and the Latino Network supported the bill, saying it increased transparency in school spending.

“We want to make sure that there’s a full picture,” said Amanda Manjarrez, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for FBO. “[...] Here’s what school districts spent, but here’s what they have left over, and where it’s coming from, and where they’re making up the difference. And so, our hope is that this can be a tool for the public and community partners and state leaders to be able to look at how these investments are performing statewide.”

That bill didn’t make it out of a House committee. But Manjarrez shared that a “budget note” for House Bill 5014, a bill that did pass, directs ODE to make school district budget data more transparent.

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