Guest Column

In a time of national emergency, when our leaders need to be thinking outside the box and giving struggling families more choices rather than fewer, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown instead decided to pay back political favors by shutting down online charter schools.

On paper, online charter schools that allow students to proceed at their own pace and learn from the comfort and security of their own home is the ideal response to a pandemic that has just closed the state’s schools for the remainder of the academic year. Closing brick and mortar schools will especially hurt large numbers of students who are already struggling academically. Most high school seniors need just a few more credits to graduate so they can attend college in the fall, credits they may not be able to get without an online charter school. Allowing such an option will help these seniors catch up to where they should be at this point in the semester and perhaps even graduate on time and as planned.

In reality, however, the charter school model has always been construed as a threat by teachers’ unions with a vested interest in preserving a status quo that produced mediocrity under the best of circumstances.

And because the Oregon Education Association (OEA) is a major donor to the governor’s political campaigns, her decision to exploit an opportunity to snuff out the competition was never in doubt.

What makes logical sense to most people is that online education be encouraged, not banned during the Corona virus and stay at home order. After all, the alternative for a lot of parents is no education at all. But while online education may help improve student’s education around the state, that’s not what Gov. Brown and her special interest political donors actually care about.

The OEA’s fear is that students who can’t attend typical brick-and-mortar schools will discover the advantages of online charter schools — and many won’t return even when the Corona virus crisis has passed.

And those concerns are quite valid. Oregon’s Connections Academy has seen a huge uptick in enrollment in the past couple of weeks. In fact, nearly 1,600 students have attempted to enroll in order to continue their education, rather than rely solely on their parents for instruction, or worse, no instruction at all.

The OEA’s motivation is clear. The unions leaders worry that once students find a home in online charter schools, they won’t turn back. All of this would ultimately affect the OEA’s bottom line as funding for those students would go with them.

And for Gov. Brown, that would mean she and her political allies would have fewer campaign contributions from the OEA.

Students are the ones who are going to suffer due to Gov. Brown’s and OEA’s actions. At least now we can say without a doubt that the OEA’s motivation is not our children’s education; rather they care more for their bottom line and political power. Please join us in urging the governor in putting kids first in the midst of this crisis.

Aaron Withe is the national director of the Freedom Foundation, and the Jeff Kropf is the founder and president of Oregon Connections Academy Board of Directors.

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