In the face of rising class sizes, budget shortfalls and staff cuts, Oregon teachers took a stand Wednesday during the teacher “Day of Action” walkout.
The state’s largest public education employee union, the Oregon Education Association, organized the walkout to advocate for more school funding.
More than 20 Oregon school districts closed for at least part of the day Wednesday in response to planned demonstrations around the state.
In Portland, organizers estimated more than 20,000 educators, students and community members gathered at Tom McCall Waterfront Park for a rally.
Susan Elliott used to teach in the Beaverton School District, which is currently facing a $35 million budget deficit. She’s now subbing in multiple districts in the area.
“I think people need to realize just how much teachers are concerned in the classroom,” Elliott said. “Our class sizes are getting larger. We’re losing resources. We should not be cutting teachers. We just can’t afford to lose support for students.”
Along with the need for better teaching environments, many of the speakers at the waterfront rally also called for holding politicians accountable, both locally and nationally.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García flew out to Portland specifically for the event, and said the funding crisis in schools wasn’t created by educators or students.
“It is an artificial crisis when a politician listens to the wrong people. They have forgotten what they were elected to do,” she said.
Education has been a big focus for lawmakers in Salem this legislative session.
The Oregon House recently passed a tax package that would generate $2 billion every two years for schools; it would do this by requiring businesses to pay a tax of 0.57% on Oregon sales that exceed $1 million.
Oregon Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the tax package this week by not showing up to the Capitol.
Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadeloupe Guerrero echoed the need for funding through that bill.
“There’s a choice to make there and frankly it’s a simple one to make,” Guerrero said. “It is time to invest in our classrooms. It is time to invest in arts education, career tech education, early education, social workers, counselors.”
Similar walkout demonstrations took place in Salem, Eugene and other cities across Oregon.