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'The answer to our current challenges is not ... to raise the cap on virtual online schools.'

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Rep. Margaret DohertyIn the face of the unprecedented pandemic, our governmental institutions and Oregonians have been forced to adapt nearly every facet of their lives. For the more than 600,000 students enrolled in public schools in Oregon, that change has required creative thinking and, sadly, missed milestones, in order to protect public health and safety.

As we embark on the new school year, there are some who believe the answer to the challenges in schools is to raise the cap Oregon has in place for the virtual for-profit online charter schools. In fact, I read in the pages of this newspaper an op-ed from the Cascade Policy Institute, a right-wing free market policy research organization, calling for an increase in the cap from 3% to a possible 8% of students enrolled in each school district ("Stop limiting Oregon's charter school enrollment" by Cooper Conway, published July 30, 2020).

Read Cooper Conway's commentary on charter schools, published online July 29, 2020.

As the former chair of the House Committee on Education and a former teacher, I have heard this policy argument made many times before. What these advocates often don't point out is that the online charter schools they promote are owned by large corporations. The current crisis and the need for remote learning is presenting these businesses with an opportunity to make more money from public funds.

Pearson, a publishing giant, purchased Connections Academy, one of the providers of online education in Oregon, for $400 million in 2011. They make their money by charging for operations curriculum, materials, teachers, etc. All of this is taking away from funds for our public schools.

The performance and use of funds has come under scrutiny. A 2017 audit by then-Secretary of State Dennis Richardson criticized the virtual for-profit charters for their lack of diversity and high failure rate.

School districts and ESDs have been working all summer to refine online learning. This includes programs for the needs of students of all levels. They are working out systems to deliver lunches to students and help for parents.

The answer to our current challenges is not, as the Cascade Policy Institute would have you believe, to raise the cap on virtual online schools. The answer is to responsibly utilize taxpayer dollars to give students in every corner of Oregon the education they truly deserve.

Margaret Doherty has represented House District 35, including Tigard and parts of Southwest Portland, in the Oregon House of Representatives since 2009. A Democrat, she lives in Tigard.


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