PORTLAND, Ore. (AP/KOIN) — Holding signs and wearing T-shirts declaring “Proud Educator,” teachers across Oregon staged a one-day walkout Wednesday demanding for more money for schools.
The demonstrations were the latest in educator activism that has taken hold nationwide. The Oregon Education Association designated May 8 as a statewide “Day of Action.”
Schools around the state, including Oregon’s largest district, Portland, were to close for at least part of the day as teachers try to pressure lawmakers for more money. Schools in the state have some of the largest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the United States.
In Beaverton, Oregon, teachers waved signs that said “30 is a speed limit, not a class size.”
Student Logan Bates told KOIN 6 News that his class had grown from 21 to 31 kids in just one year.
“This year my class is getting in trouble a lot more because there are more kids,” Logan said. “So I wanted to make it smaller, so my class wouldn’t get in trouble so much.”
Logan also said it was easier for him to learn when his class was smaller.
They say big class sizes make it harder to give students more one-on-one time.
“I’ve just seen my class size get bigger,” high school math teacher Lindsay Ray said. “I’ve seen my students needs grow and grow and grow and we just have fewer and fewer resources to deal with them.”
Beaverton teachers took the day off unpaid so they could save 7-70 teachers.
Watch: “Day of Action” draws thousands across Oregon
The walkout comes a day after Republicans in the state Senate failed to show up for a vote on a $1 billion education tax, bringing the chamber to a halt. All 12 Republicans were missing Tuesday, denying the Senate enough members to move forward with a vote.
A Democratic supermajority was poised to approve $1 billion in additional annual funding for schools. The legislation would raise revenue through a half a percent tax on some of the state’s wealthiest businesses.
Republicans walked out to protest the tax plan, saying it would raise the prices of consumer goods without fixing the education system. They also said they would not support any funding package that doesn’t address the state’s pension debt, which has soared past $25 billion.
John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, said Republicans’ behavior is exactly why teachers are protesting.
“It just mystifies me that adults just can’t sit in a room and do what’s right for kids,” he said. “This is why educators need to stand together and tell them to get back to work.”
The action follows a wave of teacher activism that began in West Virginia in 2018 and was followed by Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and elsewhere. Teachers in North Carolina and South Carolina rallied at their respective state capitols last week seeking more money.
Unlike other states, Oregon teachers say they’re not pushing for pay raises or other union demands. They say they’re walking out to highlight the conditions inside the classroom and how years of low funding has affected learning opportunities.
Oregon schools are unusually dependent on state funds after voters moved to change the school funding formula in the 1990s in an effort to limit property taxes. Since then, lawmakers have struggled to find an adequate source of revenue to keep up with rising costs.
The walkout in Oregon builds on the numerous previous strikes, said Robert Bruno, an expert on teacher labor issues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Now the issues are far more diverse and they’re about cultural inclusion, they’re about fighting poverty, about making sure that you get schools some nurses,” he said. The time is “very ripe” for the protest, Bruno said.