On Wednesday, May 8, something extraordinary happened.
Across the state, tens of thousands of Oregon educators, joined by public education students and their families, stood up and spoke out in a unified voice to say loudly and clearly: We need to fully fund our schools and we need to do it now. Students cannot wait any longer.
On this unprecedented Day of Action, in almost every school district across the state, educators rallied, marched and called for action. More than 25 school districts closed for the full day because so many educators were participating in advocacy for our students and public education that there weren't enough people to keep schools open.
We have reached a crisis point in Oregon's public schools, and educators and community members have no other choice than to make public, bold statements about the impact the lack of funding has caused.
In some districts, they held events before or after school, showing their solidarity. More than 95 events were held statewide. Rallies with huge turnout were held in Klamath Falls, Bend, Medford, Eugene, Salem, Portland, Hood River and other communities. Lack of education funding affects us all. Rural, urban and suburban students struggle with lack of supports in ways both unique and universal. At each event, local educators and parents spoke out about how the longtime and chronic disinvestment in our schools has affected their students and families.
I heard a school nurse describe the weight of caseloads that are more than double the recommended levels for safety and student care. In her district, nine nurses have to split their time between 16,000 students.
A teacher did the math. With 40 students in most of her classes, even if she tried to give each student just two minutes of personal attention a day, there isn't the time.
A student shared what it's like to try to learn in such large class sizes, sitting on the floor because there aren't enough seats, with textbooks more than 10 years old.
A school counselor talked about the constant, gnawing sense of anxiety that comes from knowing that there are more and more students who need help addressing behavioral issues or coming to school hungry and traumatized but also knowing she doesn't have enough resources or time to help each student.
Another teacher spoke about how much schools have changed in over the past 30 years. Educators were better supported with materials and aides, and students from kindergarten to high school had access to a variety of science, math, English, art, music and language classes they needed for a well-rounded education and college prep. She recalled how schools used to offer robust career and technical training so that everyone who left high school could get a job. When music, art and PE were embedded into our schools, not merely occasional classes offered only when budgets allowed. The support schools were given meant we once had an Oregon graduation rate we were proud of, instead of ranking at the bottom nationally.
Things used to be better for our students. I know, because I have seen it in my career over the past 20 years, and my colleagues have seen it. We can get there again. Oregon educators have a vision for our schools and our students, and we know our community shares this vision. What we are calling for is neither unreasonable nor unattainable. Our students need us to support them.
That is why the other strong message of Wednesday was hope: After an amazing year of statewide actions by Oregon educators and community members, our state is poised to make great gains for our students and public education.
Educators have shown a powerful unified front saying that we have not, and will not, back down until our schools have adequate funding once again. Oregon, we know we can do better, and we know we must do better. The future of our state is in our schools today, and our students need us to create the funding to support an education system that makes Oregon proud.
Oregon teachers would rather be in the classroom than going to rallies, but if this is what it takes, this is what we'll do. We will not back down from standing up for our students, and we ask that you join us. Please call your state senator today and tell them to pass full funding for public schools. Our students cannot wait any longer.
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