When President Obama speaks, people listen—except for this week's Rogue, the Oregon Education Association.
On March 10, Obama laid out his vision for education. He promoted teacher merit pay and greater charter school access, saying, "I call on states to reform their charter rules."
However in Salem, the OEA, a powerful union representing 47,000 teachers, is doing its best to kill Oregon's largest online charter school, Scio-based Oregon Connections Academy. Founded in September 2005, OCA now serves about 2,650 K-12 students.
Since 2005, OCA has battled the Oregon Department of Education over a law that says at least 50 percent of students in a virtual charter school must live in its sponsoring district. Only a small percentage of OCA's kids live in the Linn County district, but school officials believe OCA was grandfathered in before the law took effect in 2005.
On March 5 at OEA's request, several leading Democrats introduced Senate Bill 767, which would prohibit kids below seventh grade from attending virtual charters, ban a waiver of the 50 percent residence requirement and require permission from a student's home district to "attend" an out-of-district virtual charter. OEA has never liked charters, which can employ non-union teachers. Online charters also require fewer teachers than conventional schools and cost districts money when students leave neighborhood schools.
OCA consultant Rob Kremer calls the bill an effort to put OCA out of business. "The bill stabs OCA in the heart, cuts their jugular and shoots them in the head," Kremer says.
OEA spokeswoman Becca Uherbelau says OCA is siphoning money from local districts and sending it to the out-of-state, for-profit corporation that provides its curriculum. "This bill is about transparency and accountability," Uherbelau says.
Last week, Obama said new approaches can help the world's wealthiest nation to stop being an educational laggard. "Politics and ideology have too often trumped our progress," Obama said. Add SB 767 and OEA to Obama's list of culprits.