And Democrats think Biden is the best they can offer?

Biden confused

In September 2019, at the third Democratic presidential debate, an ABC moderator asked Joe Biden:

“…as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”

Biden answered:

“Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining banks, making sure that we are in a position where — look, you talk about education…make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.”

Good grief!

 

 

Bloomberg’s money: now what?

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Democrats, eager to position themselves as the good guys in the campaign finance debate, weren’t real happy about all that Bloomberg money flowing into the primary campaign.

Bloomberg spent an estimated $500 million in just 100 days on slick TV ads, mailers, about 2400 staff spread around the country and for political-data and polling. Critics, including his Democratic primary opponents, accused him of trying to buy the nomination.

But now that Bloomberg has abandoned his campaign, will the Democrats become more accepting of his pledge to keep spending millions to help Democrats win the presidency and other races in the general election?

Bernie Sanders has said he wants to win with small dollar individual contributions. He’s also said he wouldn’t welcome Bloomberg’s big money help. Joe Biden, who has a history of decrying the role of wealthy people and special interests in elections, has been considerably more flexible in practice.

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Open Secrets, a nonpartisan website by the Center for Responsive Politics that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy, Sanders has raised $134,069,993, about one-third of that in large contributions.

In contrast, the Biden for President committee has raised $68,281,49, about two-thirds of that in large contributions:

A pro-Biden SuperPAC, Unite the Country, has raised an additional $7,919,417 from just 163 donors, with employees of the top three donors (Masimo Corp; Blum Capital Partners; Marcus & Millichap) giving $1 million each. A Leadership PAC, American Possibilities, has donated $432,948 more.

If Bloomberg decides to follow through on his pledge to spend millions to defeat Trump, there are no limits on what he can spend. Since he’s worth an estimated $60 billion, he could be a very big player.

He would be prohibited from coordinating his spending decisions with the eventual Democratic nominee, but that is honored more in the breach than the observance. .

Biden says on his presidential campaign website that he will “reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics.”

“Biden strongly believes that we could improve our politics overnight if we flushed big money from the system and had public financing of our elections,” his website says. “Democracy works best when a big bank account or a large donor list are not prerequisites for office, and elected representatives come from all backgrounds, regardless of resources. But for too long, special interests and corporations have skewed the policy process in their favor with political contributions.”

So much for empty rhetoric.

If Biden wins the Democratic nomination, neither he nor the Democratic Party will try to stop Bloomberg from pouring his money into the campaign to defeat Trump. You can bet on it.

“Legislative walkouts are undemocratic.” Nonsense.

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In an opinion column in the Feb. 27, 2020 Lake Oswego Review, State Senator Rob Wagner (D-Dist 19) said the walkouts of Republicans in the House and Senate to block Democrats’ climate change legislation “…are an attack on democracy itself.”

“Serving as state senator is a job I take seriously,” Wagner wrote. “I view it as a great honor and a great responsibility. Walking out on the job is irresponsible. Shutting down democracy is irresponsible. Accepting a paycheck while refusing to work is not only irresponsible, it’s unethical and it’s disrespectful.”

Sounds all very noble, a sincere effort to position himself as an honorable servant of the people, an exemplar of moral superiority. The reality is quite different. Legislative history reveals that Wagner is more a political opportunist and a hypocrite.

The fact is legislative walkouts (even jump-outs) by Democrats and Republicans have a long history in Oregon and other states, going back at least to 1840. In December of that year,  Abraham Lincoln, then a state representative in Illinois,  jumped out of a first-floor window of a church a serving as temporary legislative chambers to avoid a quorum call on a Democratic banking bill that he and fellow Whigs fiercely opposed

In Oregon, House Democrats walked out for five days in 2001 over redrawing state legislative districts.  Senate Democratic Leader (now governor) Kate Brown, D-Portland, called the House Democrats’ actions “very appropriate under the circumstances.” Democratic Representatives Mark Hass (current State Senator) and Laurie Monnes Anderson (current State Senator) supported the walkout.

In April 1995, ten Senate Democrats walked out over an award named after the late Sen. Frank Roberts, a Democrat.

In 1971, House and Senate Democrats walked out over voting age and other issues.

The current controversy goes back to voter approval of Ballot Measure 71 in the Nov. 2010 general election. Until that point, the Oregon Legislature was restricted to meeting in regular session only during odd-numbered years.

Measure 71 amended the state’s constitution to add an even-year regular session and placed limits on the length of sessions in both even and odd years.  Odd-year sessions were limited to 160 calendar days, even-year sessions to 35 calendar days.

Proponents of Measure 71 argued that the state was too complex for the legislature to make budget decisions on a two-year basis and some critical policy decisions either couldn’t or shouldn’t be held off for extended periods.

The common assumption was that the short sessions would provide a venue for urgent actions and facilitate a smoother running government while still keeping the longer sessions for consideration of consequential laws of wide public interest.

The 2020 short session is, however, hardly limiting itself to a few urgent bills. According to LegiScan, the session has 283 bills before it. In addition to the controversial cap-and-trade bill (Senate Bill 1530), bills have been introduced with widely varying degrees of apparent urgency. These include bills that would:

  • Prohibit anybody from conducting or participating in a contest, competition, tournament or derby that has the objective of taking coyotes for cash or prizes.
  • Regulate kratom, a tropical tree with leaves that contain compounds that can have psychotropic (mind-altering) effects.
  • Require secure storage of guns and give local governments the authority to decide if guns should be allowed on their grounds.
  • Direct Oregon Health Authority to assess supply and demand of behavioral health professionals in state.
  • Describe evidence that Health Licensing Office may consider to determine if applicant for residential care facility administrator license has earned high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Recognize 2019 Oregon Women of Achievement for outstanding leadership and service to people of Oregon.
  • Makes unlawful practice for place of public accommodation to refuse to accept United States coins or currency as payment for goods and services.
  • Recognize and honor artistic and civic contributions of Michael A. Gibbons.
  • Allow expanded practice dental hygienist to perform interim therapeutic restoration.
  • Recognize University of Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert for outstanding season and remarkable career.
  • Require the Department of Transportation to study development of uniform standards for speed bump height and markings.
  • Congratulate Rogue Creamery for winning top prize at World Cheese Awards.
  • Establish a Task Force to Promote Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry.
  • Establish a product stewardship program for mattresses.
  • Authorize Oregon Business Development Department to award matching grants to membership organizations and business accelerators in outdoor gear and apparel industry.
  • Prohibit abortion unless physician has first determined probable post-fertilization age of unborn child, except in case of medical emergency. Prohibits abortion of unborn child with probable post-fertilization age of 20 or more weeks, except in case of medical emergency
  • Require health care practitioner to exercise proper degree of care to preserve health and life of child born alive after abortion or attempted abortion. Requires health care practitioner to ensure child born alive is transported to hospital.
  • And of course, allow Oregon voters to decide whether to change the constitution so a majority of the legislature constitutes a quorum, rather than the current two-thirds.

The problem for Democrats during this short session is that Article IV, section 12 of the Oregon Constitution says “two thirds of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business.” With the Republican walkout, there’s no quorum, so business is halted.

Just as Congressional rules can be effectively wielded in political battles, it is hardly undemocratic for a party to rely upon Oregon’s constitution to advance or hinder legislative action. Moreover, the Democrats should be cautious in pushing for change. If they convince voters to amend the constitution to consider a simple majority a quorum in the future, that could come back to bite them if Republicans regain control.

 

Presidential pardons have a long, sad history

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Presidents have long been pardoning more than just turkeys.

“The clemency orders that Mr. Trump issued this week were the result of a process that bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame and a shared sense of persecution.” That was the New York Times’ take this morning.

In singling out Trump, the paper seems to have forgotten recent history. As contemptible and unwise as Trump’s actions are to many, he is hardly the first president to take questionable actions in this arena.

President Obama issued 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations, including one of a 35-year prison sentence given to former U.S. Army soldier Bradley/Chelsea Manning for the largest leak of classified data in U.S. history to WikiLeaks.

President Clinton, never one to be embarrassed by his actions, pardoned his brother Roger Clinton after Roger served a year in prison after pleading guilty to cocaine distribution charges.

In August 1999, Clinton also commuted the sentences of 16 members of FALN, a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization that had set off 120 bombs in the United States, mostly in New York City and Chicago. The commutation was opposed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Congress condemned Clinton’s action by votes of 95–2 in the Senate and 311–41 in the House.

One pundit recently commented that at least Trump didn’t pull a fast one on his last day in office. That was when Clinton’s did his most egregious pardon. On January 20, 2001, against the advice of White House aides ,he pardoned Marc Rich, a former hedge-fund manager. Rich had fled the U.S. during his prosecution and was living in Switzerland at the time. Rich owed $48 million in taxes and had been charged with 51 counts of tax fraud.

At the time of the pardon, Rich was No. 6 on the government’s list of most wanted fugitives and had been on the lam, albeit a luxurious one, for 16 years, ever since his 1983 indictment by a grand jury.

Rich’s ex-wife had donated to the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton Presidential Library and Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate campaign, raising considerable suspicion about the pardon and leading former President Jimmy Carter to call the pardon “disgraceful.”

A New York Times editorial called the pardon “a shocking abuse of presidential power.” The liberal New Republic said it “is often mentioned as Exhibit A of Clintonian sliminess.” Not that such allegations ever seemed to bother the Clintons.

And the Clintons reaped benefits from the pardon even after Rich’s death in 2013, as Rich’s former business partners, lawyers, advisers and friends continued to shower millions of dollars on the Clintons.

Of course, Clinton isn’t the only “last day in office” pardoner. Remember Peter, Paul and Mary? In 1970, Peter Yarrow was convicted of taking “improper liberties” with a 14-year-old fan, for which he spent three months in jail. On his last day in office, President Jimmy Carter granted Yarrow a pardon.

President George H.W. Bush was roundly condemned for pardoning, commuting the sentences and rescinding the convictions of six people convicted in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal during Reagan’s presidency,

Reagan stepped up, too, pardoning New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after he pleaded guilty to illegally contributing to Nixon’s campaign.

Then there’s Nixon. In 1974, President Gerald Ford granted a “full, free and absolute pardon” to his predecessor Richard Nixon “for all offenses against the United States.” This broadly unpopular action was the only time a president has received a pardon. It caused a huge firestorm because Nixon was so unpopular and because there was suspicion that Ford secretly promised to pardon Nixon in exchange for him resigning and allowing Vice President Ford to succeed him.

So much for punishing bad behavior.

Hubris will bring down Donald Trump

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

 King James Version of the Bible. Book of Proverbs, 16:18

TrumpAcquitted

President Trump was ecstatic. Standing before a crowd of in the East Room of the White House, he held aloft a copy of the Washington Post. “Trump acquitted” the headline declared in bold letters. For about an hour, Trump celebrated and embraced the applauding crowd of administration officials and supporters.

“Now we have that gorgeous word,” said a triumphant Trump. “I never thought a word would sound so good. It’s called: total acquittal.”

What’s next?

Probably overreach and misfortune.

If history is any guide, the president and his sycophantic hangers-on will want to run a victory lap.

The first sign of that has already emerged, dismissal of some of those Trump believes have undermined him and his cause.

These moves were presaged by Eric Ueland, the White House’s legislative affairs director, who said to a group of Capitol Hill reporters, “I can’t wait for the revenge.”

The first targets were Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in the House impeachment hearings, and his brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, Both were bounced from the National Security Council and Trump appeared to suggest that the Army should discipline Alexander. Then Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was fired after refusing to resign.

Trump also rescinded his nomination of Jessie Liu, former U.S. Attorney for D.C., who presided over the case against former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, and criticized D.C. District Judge Amy Berman, whom Liu worked with. Stone was convicted in November 2018 on seven counts of obstructing and lying to Congress and witness tampering.

Another likely Trump move will be taking new and excessive risks, with Trump and his most devoted followers sucked into delusions that they are on a roll and are now invincible.

As the writer P. G. Wodehouse put it. “I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.”

The behavior of previous presidents is instructive.

For Lyndon B. Johnson, the lead piping that confronted his hubris was the Vietnam war.

After President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Johnson used his political cunning to push a historic civil-rights bill and a massive Great Society program through Congress. Then he trounced Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, carrying 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

He was on a roll, confident of public support as he simultaneously poured money into the Great Society and ramped up the America’s military commitment in Vietnam. Then the anti-war protests began, small at first, mostly on college campuses, then massive, furious and country-wide.

Eventually worn down and dispirited, the once ebullient Johnson announced soberly on March 31,1968 that he would not seek a second full term.

For Ted Kennedy, it was hubris that led to Chappaquiddick.

On July 17, 1969, he saw himself as a rising star, primed to carry forward the legacy of his brothers, Robert Kennedy, gunned down a year earlier, and President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963.

Then everything changed. On the night of July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy left a party and recklessly drove an Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, killing his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

Ten hours later, and only after consulting with his advisors, Kennedy reported the accident to police, To the disgust of many who thought him guilty of much more, he managed to escape with only a two-month suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident.

But the fatal accident left a stain that couldn’t be erased.

“(The) accident that killed Mary Jo was the end of the Kennedy moment, when the dreams of Camelot and the deferred hopes of martyrdom went skidding off the road and disappeared into the abyss,” wrote Peter Canellos, editor-at-large of Politico.

Richard Nixon experienced a fall from grace after reaching the mountaintop, too.

After narrowly losing the presidential race to John F. Kennedy in 1960, Nixon waged a successful campaign against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968 in a close election.

On November 7, 1972, Nixon reached the peak of his success when he ran against Sen. George McGovern and won in an electoral landslide. McGovern carried only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Just 21 months later, on August 8, 1974, Nixon went from the heights to the depths, becoming the first U.S. president to resign his office.

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Nixon departing from the White House after his resignation.

Behind his downfall was a paranoid White House more than willing to bend the rules. At one point that included burglarizing the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in an effort to uncover evidence to discredit Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers.

Then there was Watergate. In a 1973 Fortune analysis, Associate Managing Editor Max Ways described the Watergate affair as a failure of management.

“These footless ventures would remain forever incomprehensible unless we turned to the beliefs and emotional patterns of the participants.,” Ways wrote. “Their attitudes were shaped in part by the general ambience that enveloped the White House and the Committee to Re-elect the President, and that ambience included a lot of fear, suspicion, and hostility. Although the word “paranoia,” used by many people, is too strong, it is correct to say that a high level of self-pity influenced the style of the Nixon White House.

The seeds of this attitude were sown long before Watergate. Self-pity was evident, though excusable, in many of Nixon’s periods of adversity, and it had not melted away in the warm sun of ambition fulfilled.”

George W. Bush and his close advisors were also overly confident that the country was behind them and would hang tough after Bush responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with aggressive military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.                                                                                                                       “After 18 years of war, thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars squandered, the United States accomplished precisely nothing.”                                                      ForeignPolicy.com

“In considering war on Iraq,” Newsweek said, “the sibling of danger was opportunity…The thinking went that if the United States could change the regime in Baghdad, it might create a new model of democracy in the Middle East. After all, democracy was on the rise globally …”

In concert with that thinking, Newsweek cited a belief in the prowess of the high-tech United States military and its ability to ensure that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be “decisive, quick, easy, and low-cost.”

They weren’t.

Why will Trump fall from grace after his impeachment victory? History and his character foretell it.

In his book “Truman,” David McCullough said it was Truman’s character that defined the man.

“He stood for common sense, common decency,” McCullough wrote. “He spoke the common tongue. As much as any president since Lincoln, he brought to the highest office the language and values of the common American people. He held to the old guidelines: work hard, do your best, speak the truth, assume no airs, trust in God, have no fear.”

This is about as far as you can get from a description of President Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

The Iowa caucus: What a tangled web progressive Democrats weave

The Iowa Democratic caucus was a mess. Right in the middle of it was Shadow Inc, the developer of the app that malfunctioned big time in reporting on the caucus results. But it doesn’t end there.

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Now bear with me.

According to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact, Shadow began as Groundbase, a tech developer co-founded by Gerard Niemira and Krista Davis with an initial investment from another progressive nonprofit, Higher Ground Labs. Niemiura and Davis had previously worked for the tech team on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

According to the New York Times, Groundbase was nearly bankrupt when ACRONYM, a Democratic organization working to advance progressive causes, acquired the company on January 17, 2019. ”Some news this morning,” ACRONYM tweeted. “We’ve acquired SMS tool Groundbase & are launching Shadow, a company focused on building the technology infrastructure needed to enable Democrats to run better, more efficient campaigns.”

Niemira is now Shadow’s Chief Executive. In July 2019, Shadow said, “Since we initially announced our acquisition by ACRONYM earlier this year, Shadow has been hard at work to publicly launch and bring you new tools to help progressive campaigns and causes win up and down the ballot.”

Tara McGowan, ACRONYM’s founder and CEO, worked on the CBS program 60 Minutes, as a digital producer with Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign and as Digital Director for Priorities USA, a super PAC that supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

Vox reported today (Feb. 5, 2020) that after the Iowa debacle ACRONYM scrubbed its website of mentions of launching Shadow and says it’s just one of multiple investors along for the ride. “Acronym’s decision to distance itself from Shadow — or perhaps lying about it altogether — is making the situation worse, not better,” Vox said.

ACRONYM is a dark money group, so donations received by its 501(c)(4) nonprofit don’t have to be reported. That means who’s donating and how much is a mystery. But ACRONYM’s super PAC, PACRONYM, does have to report contributions to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit campaign finance research group, reports on Open Secrets 2018 and 2020 election cycle contributions of $500,000 from movie director Steven Spielberg and $500,000 from his wife, Kate Kapshaw, $2,000,000 from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, $300,000 from ACRONYM, $50,000 from Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, and $100,000 from Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Chairman of Walt Disney Studios and  co-founder and former CEO of Dreamworks.

But wait. There’s more.

Another operation under ACRONYM’s umbrella is a for-profit digital media outfit, Courier Newsroom.

On Jul 24 2019, Vice reported that the Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA, planned to invest $100 million in four so-called “news” outlets put out by Courier Newsroom that would be staffed by Democratic operatives and would publish state-specific information across social media in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.

The local news outlets would complement national media that are aligned with the Democratic Party such as The American Independent , which describes itself as “the No. 1 digital platform for progressive news” (formerly ShareBlue) and Media Matters For America, which says it is “a web-based, not-for-profit, 501 (c)(3) progressive research and information center.”

Courier Newsroom currently has three properties:  The Dogwood in Virginia, Copper Courier in Arizona and UpNorth News in Wisconsin.

Typical of the stories on the sites is a Feb. 4, 2020 item in UpNorth News: “Trump Gave Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Rosa Parks Day – The conservative radio host has a decades-long history of making racist, xenophobic, and sexist comments. In contrast, Parks, who received the award in 1996, was a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Courier Newsroom’s homepage initially gives no clue that it’s a highly partisan publication. “At COURIER, we empower individuals and communities through local reporting that helps people understand and affect the issues impacting their lives,” the homepage says. It’s only way down after the listing of staff that this appears: “COURIER is owned and operated by Courier Newsroom, a progressive media company owned by the non-profit ACRONYM.”

What a tangled web progressive Democrats weave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative schooling in Oregon: is the cure worse than the disease?

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More choices don’t always mean better choices.

Oregon, eager to appease vocal parents, gives them lots of K-12 options if they don’t want to send their children to traditional brick-and-mortar public schools.

This being National School Choice Week, alternative schooling advocates are in a particularly celebratory mood. “The landscape of options to meet the learning needs of today’s students is more diverse than ever, ” Kathryn Hickok,  executive vice president of the Cascade Policy Institute, said on Monday, Jan. 27.  “Empowering parents to choose among these options can unlock the unique potential of every child. “

There’s no question that alternative schooling can be seductive. After all, it can offer flexibility, more curriculum choice, self-paced learning, protection from threatening ideas and religious freedom. And I’m inclined to think that parents should have a role to play in conveying important valuers to their children.

It’s not clear, however, that all the schooling choices out there are better for the children or are adequately preparing young people to succeed and participate in our complex economy.

In addition, the fragmentation of our educational system may be undermining the need for all members of our society to see themselves in common cause – a necessity for the survival of our democracy. Where too many people are isolated from their peers, they may be less likely to see a relationship of mutual commitment and responsibility to others.

A case study: Junction City School District

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According to the Junction City, OR School District, of all of its  K-12 students in the 2019-2020 school year:

  • 1820 are attending district public schools
  • 74 are attending online public charter schools
  • 37 are being home schooled
  • >52 are attending private schools

Some district students may also be attending brick-and-mortar public charter schools, such as Triangle Lake, Willamette Leadership and Network Charter School, but they are not located within the district’s boundaries.

Students can attend a brick-and-mortar charter school without a release from the Junction City School District and such schools are not required to send the district a roster. The result is that no trail of paperwork is exchanged between the schools regarding Junction City resident students who attend the charter schools.

Online Public Charter Schools

According to the Junction City School District, as of Oct. 2019, district students were attending the following online public charter schools:

  • Oregon Connections Academy – 4 students
  • Baker Web Academy – 42 students
  • Destinations Career Academy of Oregon – 1 student
  • Fossil Distance Learning Programs – 21 students
  • TEACH-NW – 6 students

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FOSSIL DISTANCE LEARNING ACADEMY

The academic performance of individual students attending the online public charter schools cannot be determined on the basis of available data. Only data on the performance of grades as a whole, based on standardized tests taken in English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science, are public.

That means there’s no way of knowing whether the students living within the Junction City School District who attend these schools are doing well or not.

The Oregon Department of Education does, however, collect data on the online schools, and it is dispiriting. It is clear that the schools are drawing children and money away from public schools while failing to provide a good alternative.

Despite that, the schools, also called cyber and virtual schools, are multiplying like fruit flies. “Other states have… increased oversight of fast-growing online schools,” noted a 2017 report by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Audits Division. “In contrast to these states, Oregon’s laws allow online schools to increase enrollment rapidly regardless of their performance.”

While online charter champions churn out a torrent of supportive stories that assert traditional schools are relics, critics are pummeled as Neanderthals unwilling to accept change.

Oregon’s online public charter schools and the districts sponsoring them are listed below:

Sponsoring District Online School 2018-19 Total Enrollment
Baker SD 5J Baker Web Academy 1,808
Mitchell SD 55 Cascade Virtual Academy 69
North Clackamas SD 12 Clackamas Web Academy 445
Eagle Point SD 9 Crater Lake Charter Academy 292
Mitchell SD 55 Destinations Career Academy of Oregon 38
Fossil SD 21J Fossil Charter School 755
Gervais SD 1 Frontier Charter Academy 303
Mitchell SD 55 Insight School of Oregon Painted Hills 305
Gresham-Barlow SD 10J Metro East Web Academy 522
Santiam Canyon SD 129J Oregon Connections Academy 3,886
North Bend SD 13 Oregon Virtual Academy 1,900
Scio SD 95 Oregon Virtual Education 37
Sheridan SD 48J Sheridan AllPrep Academy 128
Frenchglen SD 16 Silvies River Charter School 432
Estacada SD 108 Summit Learning Charter 1,081
Marcola SD 79J TEACH-NW 306
Fern Ridge SD 28J West Lane Technology Learning Center 73
Harney County SD 4 Oregon Family School 266
Paisley SD 11 Paisley School 215

Source: Oregon Department of Education

Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA), the largest online public charter school in terms of enrollment, is a target of many online school critics who argue that such schools stand out more for their aggressive tactics to recruit and enroll students than for their academic excellence.

ORCA was placed on Oregon’s federally mandated improvement list after only 21.9 percent of tested students at the school met or exceeded math standards and 41.8% of tested students met or exceeded English Language Arts standards in 2018-19.

Baker Web Academy hasn’t performed well either. Just 28.1% of tested students at the Academy were proficient in math and 56.5 % of tested students were proficient in English Language Arts in 2018-19.

At TEACH-NW, 77.4% of tested students met or exceeded English Language Arts standards, but just 41.9% of tested students met or exceeded math standards in 2018-2019.

Attendance at online schools isn’t their strong suit either.

ORCA attendance has been dreadful. Regular attendance was only 63.4% during the 2018-19 school year and an average of 59.7% over the past three school years. That indicates chronic absenteeism.

At Destinations Career Academy, regular attendance was a dismal 26% in both the 2018-19 and 2017-18 school years. The online school says it combines traditional high school academics with industry-relevant, career-focused electives. Its poor attendance isn’t a very good start for those who will be eventually expected to show up regularly and on time at work.

Then there are graduation rates.

Graduation rates at all Oregon public schools, including online public charters, are calculated the same way by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) as an “adjusted cohort graduation rate.” That rate is the percentage of all students who graduate from high school with a diploma within a four-year cohort period after they start 9th grade.

Graduation rates for 2019 are based on students who first entered high school during the 2015-16 School Year.

In 2019, the graduation rate for all Oregon public schools was 80.01%.  For the Junction City School District, it was 85.16%. In sharp contrast, the graduation rate at Baker Web Academy was 62.50% and at Oregon Connections Academy 56.40%.

Only the Fossil Distance Learning Program has had a consistently high graduation rate of 83.33% – 100% over the past several years. It is worth noting, however, that Fossil hasn’t been dealing with as many students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students as the Junction City School District.

TEACH-NW started in 2017 and Destinations Career Academy of Oregon in 2018, so neither has a graduation rate for a cohort that entered during the 2015-16 school year.

Another way to evaluate school performance is to look at students’ on-track performance, the percent of freshman who have at least 25% of the credits needed to graduate with a regular diploma by the beginning of their sophomore year. Students on-track to graduate by the end of their freshman year are more than twice as likely as students who are off-track to graduate within four years of entering high school.

The 2018-19 on-track average was 85% for all Oregon public schools and 82% for the Junction City School District. In contrast, the average was just 62% at Baker Web Academy and 59% at Oregon Connections Academy.  Data is not available for the other online public schools Junction City School District students attended that year.

Even brick-and-mortar charter schools are critical of their online counterparts. While they may be at the same charter dance, they’re engaged in an increasingly hostile pas de deux.

“For a significant number of “students who are attending full-time, fully online schools, the outcomes are pretty devastating,” M. Karega Rausch, vice president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told attendees at an Education Commission of the States’ National Forum on Education Policy.

What all this data indicates is that most Junction City parents enrolling their children to online public charter schools are not choosing superior alternatives to district schools.

Homeschooling 

How about children who are being homeschooled instead of sent to the traditional public schools?  Is that a superior alternative?

As noted earlier, there are 37 registered homeschoolers in the Junction City School District, a small portion of the estimated 22,000 statewide.

Parents of students between the ages of 6-18 are supposed to notify their local Education Service District (ESD) of their intent to home school within 10 days of beginning to home school, but compliance is not comprehensive.

A homeschooler is expected to take standardized testing by August 15 of the summer following the completion of 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades, as long as the child has been homeschooled since at least February 15 of the year preceding testing (18 months before the test deadline).

The required tests include grade-level math (concepts, application, skills), reading (comprehension), and language (writing, spelling/grammar, punctuation, etc.)

With the above information, you might be tempted to say that public oversight of homeschoolers is obviously comparable to that of public school because the state knows how all homeschooled students are performing. You’d be wrong.

First, homeschooled students are not required to take common standardized tests that measure academic progress. They can opt out, and many of them do.

Second, homeschoolers’ tests are scored on a percentile, so the score a child gets represents how many people taking the same test got a lower score. In other words, the scores don’t represent how well the child knows the material, only how well the child performs relative to every other homeschooler taking the test. Even then, If a child scores at the 15th percentile or above, then the ESD simply files the report and there’s no follow-up.

Third, homeschoolers don’t have to report their scores to anybody unless their education service district (ESD) asks for them. But the state cares so little about how these children are doing that ESDs almost never request test scores, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

Not that it would make much difference if ESDs did request the test scores.

That’s because homeschoolers would only need to report their composite percentile score. This is an almost useless single percentile representing a child’s performance on all three subjects together. It’s almost as though the state doesn’t really want to know how homeschoolers are doing.

What is clear, then, is that nobody really knows whether Junction City parents who are homeschooling their children are providing them with an equal or superior alternative to District schools.

Private schools

According to the Junction City School District, more than 52 students in the district attend private schools, but obtaining an accurate count is difficult.

“Private schools are not required to report to us as to how many (or which) JC resident students are attending private school,” said Kathleen Rodden-Nord, the district superintendent. “Our estimate is based on when my assistant has called them to inquire about the number.”

The count can also be off because some students whose transfer to an online public charter school was approved by the district are also enrolled in private schools.

According to the Junction City School District, private Schools in the district offering classes within the K-12 band, and their enrollment of district students, include:

  • The Strive Academy (Grades 4-12) – 12
  • Docere Academy of Arts (Grades 7-10) – 11
  • Nature Discovery Christian School (Grades PK-12) – 52

I visited The Strive Academy and Docere Academy of Arts on Jan. 15, 2020 to gather information about their operations.

The Strive Academy

The Strive Academy was hard to find. After driving by the school’s address, 375 Holly Street, several times and seeing no school signs, I figured maybe it had suddenly moved or closed. To find out, I knocked on the door of Martial Arts America, the business at the Holly Street address.

strivedoor

To my surprise, Strive was located inside the business. Outfitted for martial arts training, with striking bags along the wall and a thick mat covering most of the floor, the sole indication of a school in the room was a long table where seven children of varying ages sat with their laptops. The only adults in the room were Ruth Garcia, Strive’s owner and Director, and an assistant. Overall, the scene looked more like a children’s gym/playroom than a school and it was hard to believe much real, intense, creative learning was going on.

striveclassroom

The Strive Academy

Garcia, who has no background in education, said the school serves students in 5th – 12th grade. It has about a dozen students enrolled and a capacity of 15, she said. . All core classes (science, math, social studies and language art) are taken online through Baker Web Academy, which is tuition-free because it is a public online charter school.

For the online classes, Strive says it uses only accredited and approved online schools recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the United States Department of Education.

CHEA does not, however, “recognize” any online K-12 schools. “We don’t have anything to do with K-12, only post-secondary education,” said Eric G. Selwyn, CHEA’s Membership and Information Administrator. The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t recognize, approve or accredit any online K-12 schools or programs either.

Most of the students now at Strive initially sought approval from the Junction City School District to transfer to Baker Web Academy, Garcia said. Once enrolled at Baker Web, they also enrolled at Strive.

The academic performance of the individual students at Strive is a true mystery, partly because it is not Strive that is grading them, but Baker Web Academy. Furthermore, the Oregon Department of Education discloses performance measures by grade level, not by individual students.

Docere Academy of Arts

Docere Academy of Arts wasn’t that easy to find either. The school gives its address as 530 W 7th Ave, Junction City, but that address is attached to a building identified on a plaque at the entrance as Christ’s Center.

ChristsCenter

Entrance to Christ’s Center Church

Learning from my experience with Strive, I walked into the building and asked if they knew anything about Docere.  It turned out the church building was a former elementary school and Docere was in a classroom down one of the hallways.

Like Strive, Docere operates in one large room, though Docere’s space is furnished and pleasantly decorated like a traditional classroom setting.

Docereclassroom

A student at the Docere Academy of Arts

Docere embraces John F. Kennedy’s view that, “This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”

“…my hope and vision is to see a school for girls that starts with the Bible as our foundation for all subjects and to inspire a love for learning and discovering God’s truths through academia and the arts,” the school’s Director and instructor,  Jaymie Starr, says in a standard letter to prospective families and students.

Starr said the school currently serves 11 girls in grades 7-10. As with Strive, all core classes are offered only online, with most students registered at Baker Web Academy and a few with the Junction City School District’s online program, JC Online.

There are two people on Docere’s staff according to its website, Jaymie Starr (also identified as Barbara J. Starr in other records) and her husband, Jeffery Starr.

The website says Jaymie holds an Associate’s of Biblical Studies degree from University of the Nations, which is not accredited by any recognized accreditation body. “The goal of the U of N is to teach students how to apply biblical truth practically and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20),” The university’s website says.

Jaymie completed a year of teacher training from U of N through their satellite campus in Tyler, TX.  The program, Teachers For The Nations (TFN), says it teaches how to “train the student to prepare and present Biblically-based lesson plans for every subject in the curriculum.”

According to Docere’s website, Jaymie’s husband, Jeffery Starr, is a Youth Pastor at Christ’s Center Church. He also works as a middle school track and cross country coach at Junction City’s Oaklea Middle School. “I love Jesus, my family and coffee!,” he says on his Facebook page.

Although Docere’s classroom setting is superior to Strive’s, the academic performance of the individual students at Docere  is just as much a mystery. Baker Web Academy is grading them, not Docere, and the Oregon Department of Education discloses performance measures only by grade level, not by individual students.

Then there’s the money

One thing all the alternative schooling arrangements have in common is that somebody is making money.

At Docere, Strive and other private schools that access online coursework through public charter schools, the online classes may be free, but all the private schools have additional charges.

At Strive, all new students pay a $149 processing fee that also covers a martial arts uniform. Then there is a $99 a month charge for a required martial arts class twice a week. In addition, tuition is $300 a month, which covers field trips and instruction in things such as robotics, music, art and first aid. That translates into $3740 for a school year for a new student.

If the school was operating at capacity, it would generate $56,100 of revenue over a 9-month school year. “You’re paying for a safe place, a safe environment,” Garcia said.

At Docere, there’s a registration fee of $100 and a monthly tuition fee of $275 per student with a $50/month sibling discount. The tuition is expected to cover the majority of costs for everything from weekly science labs, dance workshops, and art classes to cooking classes and field trips. Tuition also covers the school’s rent, activity costs, salary for the school director, payments to other teachers, tutor costs, substitutes, supplies, copies and wifi. That translates into $2,575 for a school year for a new student.

With 11 students, the school is generating $28,325 of revenue over a 9-month school year.

The big money, however, isn’t being made by the private schools.  It’s being made by the online public charter schools that provide the coursework.

These schools aren’t collecting tuition from their students. Instead, the mostly poorly performing online schools  are being supported with money diverted from the state’s brick-and-mortar public schools. The Oregon Department of Education distributes State School Fund money to each school district that sponsors a charter school; the district then passes on most of that money to the charter school.

 The Santiam Canyon School District sponsors Oregon Connections Academy, which had the largest enrollment of 3,886 students on Oct. 1, 2019. The State School Fund gave the district $30,419,216.36 for the 2018-19 school year to support that sponsorship.

Oregon law provides that a sponsoring district must pass on to its charter school at least 80 percent of its per-pupil grant for K-8 students and 95 percent of its per pupil grant for grade 9-12 students.

The Santiam Canyon School District chose to retain 1% ($304,192.16) of the State School Fund money it received and then to charge Oregon Connections Academy 3.5% ($1,054,025.85) of the balance as a management fee for the provision of services for the 2018-19 school year. That translated to $1,358,218.01 in revenue to the Santiam Canyon School District and $29,060,998.35 in revenue to Oregon Connections Academy.

Distributions to all the Oregon school districts sponsoring online public charter schools that year are shown below:

County District sponsor Charter school SSF $ rec’d
Linn Santiam Canyon SD 129J Oregon Connections Academy  $  30,419,216.36
Coos North Bend SD 13 Oregon Virtual Academy  $  14,510,307.99
Baker Baker SD 5J Baker Web Academy  $  14,147,825.08
Clackamas Estacada SD 108 Summit Learning Charter  $    8,616,826.86
Wheeler Fossil SD 21J Fossil Charter School  $    5,856,698.56
Multnomah Gresham-Barlow SD 10J Metro East Web Academy  $    4,047,657.29
Clackamas North Clackamas SD 12 Clackamas Web Academy  $    3,511,076.97
Wheeler Mitchell SD 55 Cascade Virtual Academy; Destinations Career Academy of Oregon; Insight School of Oregon-Painted Hills  $    3,409,914.44
Harney Frenchglen SD 16 Silvies River Charter School  $    3,367,207.13
Marion Gervais SD 1 Frontier Charter Academy  $    2,350,696.75
Lane Marcola SD 79J TEACH-NW  $    2,348,684.27
Jackson Eagle Point SD 9 Crater Lake Academy  $    2,256,338.83
Harney Harney County SD 4 Oregon Family School  $    2,032,711.22
Lake Paisley SD 11 Paisley Charter School  $    1,618,021.06
Yamhill Sheridan SD 48J Sheridan All Prep  $    1,047,705.30
Lane Fern Ridge SD 28J West Lane Technology Learning Center  $        579,874.37
Linn Scio SD 95 Oregon Virtual Education  $        232,202.48

Source: Oregon Department of Education

     Oregon’s State School Fund sent $100,352,964.96 to school districts sponsoring online public charter schools for the 2018-2019 school year.

All that money for a mostly substandard education and mediocre results.

Some State School Fund money may also be leaking back to the parents of the online students in the form of cash, debit cards or school-controlled accounts that students and their families are supposed to use for school-related purposes.

In a late 2019 posting to the Junction City School District’s districts website, Rodden-Nord  alleged that some online public charter schools are using State School Fund money to give their students “stipends”  that ranged from $900 per student to at least $2000 per student. “A handful of Junction City families seeking a release from our district to attend a virtual charter program have expressed that they do not want to do JC Online (the district’s online program) because we do not provide such a stipend and they need it, or want it,”  Rodden-Nord said.

The TEACH-NW website confirms that annual so-called “allotments” will be made to students in the 2019-2020 school year as follows, with amounts allocated based on initial enrollment quarter:

According to Phillip Johnson, the Director at TEACH-NW,  allotments can be used to cover academic materials such as textbooks, school supplies, curriculum materials, approved instructional programs (i.e. music, dance), enrichment experiences, educational subscriptions, educational fees, tutoring services, some athletics fees and equipment, field trips, and internet expenses as approved by the student’s Educational Facilitator (assigned teacher).

“All expenditures are closely monitored (daily) by our account supervisor,” Johnson said. “Families do have access to a program issued debit card which is under the direct control of our program (activation, deactivation, loading). We also process reimbursements for those families who prefer to not use their debit card. All expenditures must be directly linked to the student’s Individual Learning Plan (ILP) which is aligned to state standards.  Failure to maintain program compliance results in allotment suspension.”

Amber Jallo, Enrollment Manager at the Fossil Distance Learning Program, said her school also supplies funds to families. “We supply $1500 of ed funds,” she said. “This breaks down to be $750 per semester. These funds can be spent on curriculum, field trips and enrichment.”

Jim Smith, Superintendent of the Fossil School District, added,  “We provide educational funds to purchase curriculum and instruction.  All purchases must meet all requirements provided in our policies. Our students can currently use these funds for curriculum, educational supplies, tutoring, instruction, and field trips.”

Daniel Huld, Superintendent of Baker Charter Schools, said they don’t provide students with any such stipends.

Even if online public charter schools do give some of their State School Fund money to students or their families, they may not be breaking any rules if the funds are intended to be used for school-related expenses.  “To our understanding there is nothing that explicitly prohibits this in the charter school statutes, or in state law that speaks specifically to this issue,” said Jenni Knaus, a Communications Specialist at the Oregon Department of Education.

_______________________

I get it that the alternative education choices reflect a lack of confidence in traditional educational institutions. However, despite the almost messianic belief in alternative schooling held by many supporters, it’s clear from the facts on the ground that they have not found the promised land.

A close look reveals a brutal truth — there are major flaws in many of the alternative options being chosen by Oregon parents and the damage being inflicted on their children could be severe.

All Oregonians, particularly the legislature and governor, should care because education is not just a private good.  Studied indifference or washing our hands of the consequences of educational malfeasance can have serious consequences for the community at large.

As Chester Finn Jr., Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, put it, “Once you conclude that education is also a public good—one whose results bear powerfully on our prosperity, our safety, our culture, our governance, and our civic life—you have to recognize that voters and taxpayers have a compelling interest in whether kids are learning what they should…”