Oregon Choice Bill Expires

Published June 1, 2009

A bill to provide tax-credit scholarships to low- and middle-income children throughout Oregon failed to pass a key legislative deadline in mid-April.

House Bill 2754, sponsored by state Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville), proposed giving families a $1,000 tax credit per child for qualified K-12 education expenses. Businesses and corporations could shave up to $8,000 off their taxes for donating to scholarship-granting organizations, which would administer vouchers to low-income and disabled students. Individuals could earn $1,000 tax credits for donating to those organizations.

Families from across the state turned out at the state capitol for the bill’s March 25 public hearing before the House Education Committee.

“Isn’t it ironic that in an age that practically worships ‘choice,’ parents have such little choice in the matter of education?” asked Meg Cutting, a seventh grader who testified at the hearing. Cutting credits her speaking and writing ability to the education she is receiving at the private school she attends.

Benefits for Families, Taxpayers

Wingard said he sponsored the bill because he wants to educate people about how tax credits work and could be a win-win situation for everyone—including the Oregon state government—by actually saving tax money. He believes such a bill is crucial to improving education in the state.

“The public education system is in extreme need of reform,” Wingard said. “It works for a large number of children, but for another large group it does not. The dropout rates for both Hispanics and African-Americans are extremely high, and reading levels are dismal. We can do better, and the way to do that is with competition. People should be able to send their kids to schools that work best for them.

“We have an antiquated education system,” Wingard continued. “Technology has advanced, and people are a lot more mobile. People should be allowed to create and attend innovative schools that accommodate these advances.”

Step Backward

The failure of HB 2754 to gain enough support in the Democrat-dominated House by its April 17 deadline to remain in consideration this session was a blow to choice in the state.

“We’re moving backwards,” said Nick Smith, a spokesman in Wingard’s office. “The teachers unions and legislature are actively considering bills that would overregulate charter schools, virtual schools, and other choices parents might make for their children. Hopefully we can defeat those bills [before the legislature’s June adjournment].”

Advocates of HB 2754 plan to continue pressing for support in preparation for the next session.

The Cascade Policy Institute contributed to the effort by holding its first Oregon School Choice Video Contest. The competition called for video submissions from K-12 students on the theme of “School Choice Changed My Life” or “Why I Need School Choice.” Parents were allowed to enter with submissions on how school choice could or did change their child’s life.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.

For more information …

Oregon HB 2754: http://www.leg.state.or.us/09reg/measures/hb2700.dir/hb2754.

Cascade Policy Institute top 20 video entries: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=B5E7A11234CFF435.