School Choice Bill Gets Hearing in Oregon House

Published June 1, 2007

A mostly black delegation of citizens from Portland traveled to the Oregon state capitol on April 5 to testify in support of House Bill 3010. The bill would create a pilot project–the Freedom to Choose My School Grant program–to allow 1,000 low-income students to take the state funding for their education to attend any school, public or private.

The bill received a hearing because state Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Education Innovation, believed low-income students deserve an opportunity to be heard. At press time the bill was pending in the state’s House Education Committee.

With 29 Republicans cosponsoring the bill, it faced an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Graduates and Dropouts

At the hearing, the Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market research group, presented subcommittee members with copies of a summary of three decades of educational failure in Portland’s only primarily black high school. The report, titled “Leaving Most Children Behind: 30 Years of Education Reform at Jefferson,” details the community’s poor graduation rates–nearly 50 percent of African-Americans and Latinos drop out.

The researchers estimate more than 7,000 Northeast Portland students have exited the city’s public school system over the past 30 years, either dropping out or graduating without the ability to read or do 12th-grade math.

“I did graduate, but I watched more than 60 percent of my fellow minority African-American males not graduate,” Portland resident Damon Miller told the committee.

Abilities and Opportunities

Esther Hinson, who helps dropouts get their general educational development diplomas, told the committee, “It’s time to break the cycle, and I think school choice is the way to go.”

Jomo Greenidge dropped out of school in Portland in the 1990s even though he had Mensa-level SAT scores and was tutoring other students in college-level math. His grade point average was low.

“My problem was not that I wasn’t smart or that I didn’t love to learn,” Greenidge testified. “My problem was that my school was a bad fit for me. And I did not graduate, and I did not go to college for seven more years.”

Greenidge still tutors kids in the area who feel trapped in a public school that doesn’t work for them.

“Sometimes as educators, we have to look at ourselves and say maybe we are not the best solution for the kids we are dealing with,” Greenidge said. “H.B. 3010 will provide an opportunity for some kids to thrive in an environment that would suit them. Because without this bill, and bills like it, you take a position of arrogance that says, ‘We are the best at what we do, and what we do will serve all of our kids.'”

Choice and Achievement

Also at the hearing, Katherine Hickok, director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) of Portland–a program facilitated by the Cascade Policy Institute–described the privately funded partial-tuition scholarships CSF provides to hundreds of low-income families. She submitted letters from several grateful CSF students.

“Low-income families care about their children very much, and they will make any sacrifice they can to choose the best environment for their children.” Hickok said.

Abel Araya, 16, who uses his CSF scholarship to attend a private high school in Portland, testified that he plans to attend college after graduation.

“Growing up, my parents always wanted me to be successful and get a good education,” Araya said. “CSF has put me in an atmosphere where that is possible. They have given my family a sense of relief and provided me with a better education and the confidence that I will succeed.”

Grades and Crime

Pastor Fred Woods discussed his 18 years of work with juveniles in the parole and probation system. One thing they all had in common, he said, was low academic achievement.

“What I found was that if you’re low academically, there’s an increase in pregnancy, crime, violence, drugs, homelessness,” Woods said. “Is it fair because I come from a low-income family that I can’t receive a quality education?”

Maura Ciota runs a nonprofit program for low-income youth in northeast Portland.

“I’m an Irish Catholic Democrat. This is a bipartisan bill. It’s not a Republican thing,” Ciota said. “Competition isn’t bad. I’ve got a lot of union members in my family, and I support this bill.”

Matt Wingard ([email protected]) directs the Cascade Policy Institute’s School Choice Project.

For more information …

Freedom to Choose My School Grant program,

“Leaving Most Children Behind: 30 Years of Education Reform at Jefferson,” by Matt Evans, published in April 2006 by the Cascade Policy Institute, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #21189.