Lawmakers, Education Officials Seek "Mandate Relief"

Feb 22, 2012

SALEM, Ore. – If there's one catch-phrase that's popular in the Oregon capitol these days, it's "mandate relief." Specifically, the kind of mandates that apply to cash-strapped school districts. But as Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman reports, not everyone thinks it's a good idea to do away with the requirements.

For the last two sessions, Oregon lawmakers have put a bulls-eye on some three dozen so-called education mandates. They're requirements that school districts must follow. The list includes developing curriculum about the arms race, for starters, and…

Susan Castillo: "Arbor Week. The Irish Potato Famine."

State School Superintendent Susan Castillo could go on. She says many of the mandates are outdated and failed this litmus test.

Susan Castillo: "Do they add value to all of our efforts to try to help all of our kids be successful, or are they causing burdens on our schools, to have to spend time on following mandates or reporting requirements instead of spending their time focused on student achievement?"

But for every mandate, someone thought it was a good idea to have it in the first place. For instance, one requirement lawmakers are on track to do away with is that schools should observe Women's History Week. That was put on the books in the early 1980's. Portland State University history professor Patricia Schechter says it's fair game to update the law—Women's History Week is now Women's History Month, for instance. But she says doing away with the requirement entirely is a red flag.

Patricia Schechter: ""I think a better way would be to revise the language to reflect the laudable goals of flexibility, tailoring to local concerns, local interests, rather than send, I think, an unintended message of devaluing that topic area."

Of course there are many education mandates that aren't going away. But the state has given school districts a one-year break from certifying they've met those requirements. And there's a section of a bill under consideration now that would extend that break for another year. Portland school activist Margaret DeLacy says that's a bad idea.

Margaret DeLacy: "Our families won't have any assurance that their children are in safe and healthy schools until the year after next. And we think that they want to know that their children are healthy today and tomorrow."

State education officials say the break doesn't give districts a pass from following the rules…they just don't have to document their compliance with them.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network