Oregon Teachers Walking Out to Protest a Lack of School Funding
Tens of thousands of teachers plan to walk out across Oregon on Wednesday to protest a lack of school funding, the latest battleground in educator activism that has taken hold nationwide.
Schools around the state, including Oregon's largest district, Portland Public Schools, will close for at least part of the day as teachers try to put pressure on lawmakers for more money. Oregon schools have some of the highest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the United States.
The teacher walkout comes a day after Republicans in the Oregon 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 a quorum. That means there weren't enough people to formally move ahead with a vote.
A Democratic supermajority was poised to approve $1 billion per year in additional funding for schools. The legislation would raise revenue through a half a percent tax on some of Oregon'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 maintain 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 goes straight to the heart of 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, and Arizona. Teachers in North Carolina and South Carolina rallied at their respective state capitols last week seeking more money.
But 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 lower funding has affected children's 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.