After the Rally

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Hundreds of teachers across the state of Oregon were absent from their classrooms on May 8th. Instead of teaching, they were rallying for better school funding, more staff, and additional resources within their school districts. Throughout Oregon, the day is being called the “Day of Action.” In the Portland area, public school advocates gathered in Waterfront Park to peacefully demonstrate that students deserve success with their education and success in their lives moving forward after high school. School districts, including Salem, Gladstone, Beaverton, North Clackamas, Gresham-Barlow, and more participated. School was cancelled May 8th in the NCSD and in many other districts because the expected number of teachers who would participate exceeded the number of substitutes. Since the Day of Action caused the North Clackamas Schools to shut down for the day, the NCSD Board of Directors decided to add an extra day to the end of the school year leaving the year to end on June 18th. While NCSD supported the overall need to have additional state operating funding, “We do not have an opinion about this specific act. The reality is NCSD is responding to this matter, not sponsoring it,” said Jonathan Hutchison, Communications Director for the North Clackamas School District.  

 

The rally took place at 11:00 am in Portland with other rallies set around Oregon. Teachers from all over gathered at the Waterfront Park in downtown Portland to show their dedication to their students, schools, and each other. In Milwaukie, educators and parents held up signs along the sidewalks of the Orange Line Stop in downtown Milwaukie. In earlier months, “A March For Our Students” took place in the state capital that elicited 5,000 educators, all of them pleading for more money for schools, and if they are successful, the money could raise the low graduation rates in the state and provide support to the school systems. Statistics currently show that Oregon has the third lowest high school graduation rate in the country. Oregon schools also, “Lack support for students with behavioral issues, which has created a crisis of disrupted learning because students with unmet needs are not getting the help they deserve,” stated the Oregon Education Association. Educators hope to see change quickly and hope that their students have the experiences they deserve.

 

Psychology teacher at Clackamas High School, Harverty Brown, believes the rally happened due to a demand for the state government to fully fund Oregon education. Brown states, “For too long, students and staff have not been given the support they need to thrive and excel in our world. We are asking the state to fund basic needs of our school system, such as more counselors and access to mental health care, lower class sizes, and early childhood education.” Brown knows exactly where the problem lies, and what can be done to improve Oregon education. She recognizes that poor funding for Oregon schools is not a new problem. Brown explains, “Since the 1990s, Oregon has not sufficiently funded schools, and each year teachers have to worry about their job security and ability to support themselves financially, especially new teachers.” Furthermore, Brown states, “Class sizes keep growing, making learning and engagement more difficult for students and teachers.” It is crucial for teachers to start getting higher pay, and for class sizes to be decreased. Brown particpated in the rally because she believes teachers and school staff need to have a voice when it comes to this topic. Moreover, Brown believes students should have a voice as well. She states, “Our education system should serve all students in becoming successful and engaged citizens in our country. For me, it feels like a very daunting task, with over 200 students and six classes. I want students to have the support they deserve in their education, and right now I don’t think any of us feel equipped to provide that to its fullest extent.” Brown wants to serve students the best she can, but she feels she is lacking the basic tools to do so.

 

North Clackamas Education Association (NCEA) President, Robin Troche, says, “We need to keep the pressure on our legislative and economic leaders. They have put forward a plan, but we need to ensure they follow through…And we need to keep showing up, speaking up, and talking about why class sizes and mental health supports for students matter.”

 

Around 25,000 students, teachers and parents from 198 different school districts dressed in red and marched through downtown Portland on May 8th as way to demand more funding for public schools across the state. “Teachers don’t step out of the classroom lightly,” said Keri Pilgrim Ricker, a teacher at Eugene’s Churchill High School who marched with as many as 3,000 other teachers through Salem before flooding the Capitol rotunda. “We’re doing it for an honorable purpose. This is a state of emergency for Oregon schools,” said Ricker, who is also Oregon’s current teacher of the year, “And only [a] collective voice is going to change the state of education in our state.”

Barbara Smith Warner is a member of the Oregon House of Representatives. She represents District 45, which includes Northeastern Portland, Maywood Park, and Parkrose. Smith Warner is also Co-Chair of the student success joint committee. In 2019, the Committee proposed a bill called the Student Success Act, that was sent to the House of Representatives for review. As of May 2019, the bill passed the House and is now directed to the Senate to see if the bill can continue on its political journey to become a law. Smith Warner, says, “The Student Success Act is a dedicated, stable source of revenue for Pre-K to 12 education that ties funding to outcomes, requires ongoing accountability, and closes the opportunity gap for historically underserved students.” Smith Warner believes the act is important because it will allow kids to learn the things they are meant to learn, and learn the things they need to learn, in order to be successful in life. She talked about a “year-long tour of the Joint Committee on Student Success…” Smith Warner continues to say, “We took 10 trips totaling almost 3,000 miles to 55 schools in every corner of the state, to listen and learn from the students, parents, educators, and communities about the challenges and opportunities of Oregon’s public school system.” The trip is how the Student Success Joint Committee established their idea for a bill. She says, “The nationwide focus by teachers reflects the sad truth that every state has its own problems with education funding. I hope that the May 8th event [will demonstrate] the importance of this issue to all Oregonians.”

 

In the same week, the Republicans made an executive decision to leave the Oregon Senate for one week in protest of the Democratic leadership and the lack of compromise between the two groups, but also because they wanted “a solution to the state’s increasing public pension debt,” before increasing school funding. At the end of the week, the Republicans agreed to a few conditions. The Democrats agreed to “scrap bills on gun control and vaccines in exchange for Republicans’ return to Senate and their agreement not to pull a similar maneuver in the future.” The gun control bill was meant to raise the age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, and to require gun owners to store them safely. The vaccination bill was created with the intention of ending families’ ability to opt-out of school vaccination requirements for personal, philosophical, or religious reasons. With the return of the Republicans, the Senate was able to approve a “$1 billion per year school funding tax. It would raise $1 billion per year through a half a percent tax on Oregon’s wealthiest businesses via a .057% tax on gross receipts for businesses with $1 million or more in sales.” Republicans and Democrats were at odds earlier this month, and still continue to see issues differently, but both have now gained important items to their respected causes, and the Senate continues forward with the Student Success Act.

 

After the May 8th teacher rally, Democrats on the Senate came together to “introduce a bill that would change the way some parts of the Public Employee Retirement System works.” In  the country currently, “employees contribute six percent of their pay to a 401K type plan.” In the bill proposed by Senate members, 2.5% of the 6% would be sent to “help fund their pension plan.” This means that less of the employees’ money would go toward retirement savings, which could cause trouble later in life. On the other hand, employers “would pay less for each employee–lowering the cost for schools, local governments, and public agencies.” Also included in the bill is an attempt to “refinance the money owed to the most expensive employees. The refinancing would extend the repayment from 20 to 22 years lowering the cost each year, similar to a refinance of a home mortgage.” However, costs would go up in the future. The Democrats have proposed the bill, and the Republicans are avoiding conversation on the topic. All we know is that the Democrats “are pushing the bill and Republicans cannot stop it–so instead they are blocking the vote by staying away.” It is “unclear” exactly where the Republicans stand, but they do “insist” that the “money will just get sucked away by the fund’s massive debt.”

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