On Wednesday May 8, 2019, teachers from across the state of Oregon united to take a stand against the current state of education spending in Oregon’s public school system. Educators organized a statewide day of action that involved a walkout which resulted in partial, and in some cases full, cancellation of school for the day. Thousands of teachers took to the streets, sporting red t-shirts—as part of the movement’s theme, #RedForEd—that espoused slogans like, “Fund our Future,” or “Proud Educator.”
This movement, organized by the state’s largest public education employee union, the Oregon Education Association, came in response to a state legislature that has failed to address problems such as rapidly increasing class sizes, staff cuts, and budget deficits (e.g. Beaverton School District’s current $35 million deficit). Coincidentally, the day of action occurred the day after all 12 Republicans in the state Senate failed to show up to vote on a proposal from the state’s Democratic supermajority to approve schools for $1 billion in additional funding. In addition to contemporary partisan struggles over education funding, Oregon public schools struggle to overcome their particularly high level of reliance upon state funding after a vote (Measure 5) in the early 1990s which changed the school funding strategy in an effort to limit property taxes. This shifted funding decisions from local school districts into the hands of state lawmakers, leading to the kind of partisan struggle that is seen in the legislature today.
Unlike similar movements across the nation, Oregon’s teachers aren’t advocating as much for the protection of their jobs or for raises in their pay as much as they are advocating for increasing the quality of classroom conditions. They are speaking up about increasing class sizes, saving arts programs that are being sacrificed to fund core subjects, and more. Some educators involved with the day of action have expressed fear that misconceptions about its motives might hurt the cause. Allen Kinast, an educator in Oregon City, says, “I have heard some claims via parent chat groups in my district that we were protesting for more pay. That couldn’t be more false. What we are encouraging the state to do is to fund schools at a level where all students can obtain a well-balanced education. For me, that means a rich and vibrant offering of arts-based classes.” Similarly, David Stroup, Franklin’s building representative for the Portland Association of Teachers says, “It’s worth pointing out that this was in no way a protest against our school, or even our district. The district, in fact, has been very supportive. This was intended to get the attention of politicians in Salem. We want to see that money used to protect important programs, like counselors and school nurses, and to bring down class sizes.”
The state’s teachers are passionate about supporting their students to the full extent that they all individually need to succeed, and it is their overwhelming belief that this is only possible if the state fully implements the money set aside for education spending and increases that sum of money in the first place. This can mean cutting back on large classes, so teachers are able to connect individually with their students, or supporting arts and CTE programs in middle schools and higher levels so that students have better knowledge of their options outside of pursuing traditional college and career paths straight out of high school.
Stroup says of the public’s perception of the walkout movement that he “hope[s] that students and parents will research this issue on their own and make their opinions known to their representatives in Salem.” For those that missed the day of action, or are seeking to support teachers’ efforts towards increasing education funding, Kinast recommends communicating with your local state representative. “They are actually more inclined to speak with their constituency than many people realize.” Kinast concludes that “spending more money on education upfront is a more beneficial way for a society to take care of itself than spending money on all the consequences that result when you don’t.”