Educators across Oregon are planning to walk out of class Wednesday, May 8 should the Oregon Legislature not add an additional $2 billion per biennium needed to maintain and improve K-12 schools.
Over the last two decades, the state has financed schools at 21 to 38 percent below what its own research suggests districts need to be successful.
Many educators argue the lack of funding has resulted in teachers having to do more with less. They say this is reflected in the state’s low graduation rates, high dropout and absenteeism rates, as well as rising issues with disruptive behaviors, mental health needs and large class sizes.
Salem-Keizer schools closing early: Salem-Keizer schools closing early on day of expected statewide teacher walkout
The Joint Committee on Student Success was created in 2018 to figure out what is going well in schools, what isn’t and how the state can create a new source of revenue to fund game-changing improvements.
The committee’s proposed investment plan, released April 4, emphasizes behavioral and mental health supports and early learning opportunities.
While it generally has bipartisan, bicameral support, and will go through a series of hearings and amendments before heading to the House floor, there have been some critics.
Gov. Kate Brown said she’s been clear she expects higher education funding to be included in the final bill. However, co-chairs of the committee said the focus has always been on early childhood and K-12 education.
The Oregon Coalition of Community Charter Schools argues the proposed bill leaves out students in public charter schools, education settings supported by service districts, youth correction and juvenile detention programs, tribal schools and the Oregon School for the Deaf.
So far, the Joint Subcommittee on Revenue has discussed a number of potential tax options that would create at least $660 million per year.
Revenue ideas: Commercial, labor taxes among ideas to raise $2 billion for Oregon schools
May 8 is the only scheduled day of action, but more could be expected as conversations continue. Unless lawmakers pass the full K-12 base budget and new revenue before then, actions in May will likely still take place.
The Statesman Journal reached out to the Oregon Education Association, which is in favor of the act, to see what the May 8 strike would look like and what people can expect moving forward.
Association President John Larson said teachers are heartened by the release of the proposal and described it as a “good start toward reversing decades of disinvestment.”
“We’d be able to reduce class sizes, restore programs, and address mental health needs of our students,” he said. “More details are still to come, so we’re watching the proceedings closely.”
The answers below are from Larson and have been edited for clarity:
What is the goal or desired outcome of a strike?
Educators want to see that our schools have enough resources to serve students.
It’s time for legislators to finally turn around three decades of disinvestment and invest in Oregon’s education system and significantly increase funding so we can give students every opportunity to be successful.
How would it align with legislative proceedings?
The legislative session isn’t over til it’s over — at the end of June. We expect lawmakers will be in the middle of discussions about revenue and school budgets on May 8.
Hopefully hearing from so many educators willing to take action for their students helps them make the right decision — to pass the Student Success Act and invest in students.
What will May 8 look like?
On Wednesday, May 8, you’ll see educators around the state standing up and standing together for students.
In many school districts, educators are planning walkouts. There will be big events in Portland, Salem, Eugene, Bend, Medford and other locations around the state.
Salem-Keizer Public Schools will close two and a half hours early on May 8.
We’ll see rallies, marches and sign-waving activities, as well as lots of direct outreach to legislators to call on them to fund our schools and pass the Student Success Act.
What will it take to get to that point?
More than 50 school boards and local associations around the state have passed resolutions making it clear: it’s time to fund our schools.
I’ve heard from educators in every corner of the state who are ready to take action to support students.
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What happens if schools are not fully funded?
We’re optimistic that legislators will dramatically increase school budgets this year.
How would this strike compare to recent ones across the country?
Educators taking action on May 8 will join a long line of successful actions around the nation over the last year as part of the #RedforEd movement.
From West Virginia to Oklahoma to Arizona, we’ve seen that when educators stand up for students, we can make a huge difference.
Some districts have changed their academic calendars to take May 8 off, but others haven’t. How does this affect staff not on strike?
Missing a day of school is a big deal, but not as big of a deal as missing out on individual attention throughout your whole educational career.
May 8 is about students, and we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure that the next generation of students have what they need. Students can’t wait any longer. That’s why we’re taking action this year.
Contact reporter Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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