"So when we talk about school choice, vouchers, public funds going to religious organizations, or private schools, that's scary. Because they're not held to the same standards. That's the problem."
— Collin Robinson
About a decade ago, Collin Robinson was a volunteer youth soccer coach for a team of kids from Bend's Ensworth Elementary School. At the end of the season, Robinson says some of the other "soccer moms" asked him to shuttle their kids to the school, where parents would be taking part in a Parent-Teacher Association meeting that night. That evening—which also happened to be election night for the school's PTA—Robinson marched into the meeting room, a half-dozen kids in tow.
He arrived as soccer coach, but by the end of that meeting, Robinson found himself as the president-elect of Ensworth's PTA after the other members nominated him on the spot. That would set him on a path of intense PTA involvement for years to come.
After two years of serving as president of the Ensworth PTA, he went on to becoming the area's regional director, representing not just Bend-La Pine area schools, but a region that stretches from Klamath Falls to the Idaho border. The next step up, Robinson says, came through yet another chance encounter.
"So I was regional director for four years... started going to national events, national conferences, training opportunities," Robinson reflects. "I snuck into, with my president and president-elect, a luncheon with them, at the national conference, joking that I was the president-elect-elect. And then at the end of that conference they said, 'Would you consider being the president elect?' And that was almost four years ago." After two years as president-elect of the Oregon PTA and another two as president, Robinson's tenure ends in June.
Robinson, who's made a living as a freelance web developer for the past 15 years, has served in all of his PTA roles as a volunteer. While one could argue that he's done his bit, he's not stopping in June. Robinson has now been nominated for the board of the national PTA. He's also spent the past several weeks testifying in front of the state's Ways and Means Committee in support of adequate funding for Oregon schools.
Robinson's biggest priority: "Funding, funding, funding. Everything stems from that," he says. "I've been on task forces for class size at the state level, graduation rates at the state level, assessments, the new rolling out of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Those were all kind of big things. That's the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind. But it all stems around funding. If we can't fully fund schools, we can't reduce class size, we can't extend the days. We can't give the kids what they deserve until we do that. So while I appreciate being on those task forces, at every one I say, 'When do we fully fund schools?' And nobody has an answer."
With his eyes now set on a national position, Robinson has naturally paid attention to pending policy changes on the national stage, including the proposed voucher system touted by recently-appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
"I see the value in charter schools. But, they should be held to the same accountability that anyone who's taking federal dollars for education should be," Robinson says. "So when we talk about school choice, vouchers, public funds going to religious organizations, or private schools, that's scary. Because they're not held to the same standards. That's a problem. If we want to hold them to the same standards, then that's another discussion to have, but it's all children, not the children who can afford to go to a school or the kids whose parents can get up and get them to school."
While Robinson goes about his work of championing schools, students and teachers, he's also somewhat critical of local legislators, who he believes aren't doing enough to support student success.
"Look at (Measure) 97, brought forward by the people, not the legislators. If the legislators were doing their job, we wouldn't have had to have brought 97 to the table. And even now it's an issue, because the unions and the business folks won't come and discuss things. So how are we going to get anything done? On an education level, class size is probably one of the biggest. If we can reduce class size, we can see the outcomes that we expect. I know graduation rates came out this week (Editor's note: this interview was conducted in January), and we ticked up a percentage and a half, or whatever. Yay, we're at seventy-four something. That's still not good."
As he looks at what's ahead, Robinson says he's still supportive of local educators and their progress, yet remains hopeful about further progress. "We will keep solutions on the table, hoping that maybe the other side will put a solution on the table and we can find middle ground."