Highlights from this week’s rallies by teachers demanding more funding for education.
This week is Teacher Appreciate Week. Many Oregon teachers used the opportunity to draw attention to what they feel is inadequate school funding. They did this by walking out, closing schools for the day so that they could march the streets to rally support for more money for public education.
Last Friday my daughter’s English teacher, Shawn Swanson, who teaches at Roosevelt High School in Portland, sent a letter to the families of all his students to explain the action:
“Over the last 30 years, Oregon has spent far less than the national average per pupil, which has resulted in larger class sizes, reduced instruction time and cuts to physical education, art, vocational and music classes. Every year, teachers are asked to do more and more with fewer resources. This has a real impact on all our children.”
For a long time Oregon has had a reputation for schools that rank poorly when compared to other states. Last year USA Today ranked Oregon schools 34th out of 50. They noted that Oregon spends $1,000 per student per year less than the national average. According to www.may8forstudents.org, Oregon schools have some of the nation’s larges class sizes.
One of the most visible manfestations of shortfalls in school funding is the abbreviated school year. While most states offer 180 days of instruction annually, Oregon districts average less than 170, or a full two weeks less than our neigbors to the north in Washington.
On the morning May 8, people streamed down along the river the south end of Waterfront Park in Portland for an 11 a.m. rally. Many wore red shirts emblazoned with the hashtag #RedForEd to show their solidarity in demanding increases to school funding.
Roosevelt High School student Anika Kaplan, 15, poses for a photo with her school nurse Nicky Zimmerman. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all schools have at least one on-site nurse and the ratio be no greater than one nurse to 750 students. The Oregon ratio is one to 5,481. Oregon does not mandate that schools have nurses on staff.
Roosevelt High School English teacher, Shawn Swanson (right) marches with his family to support increases in education funding. When asked how much of the funding issues can be blamed on PERS (the underfunded public employees retirement system) he responds: “PERS has been used as a scapegoat. It’s a seperate issue.” He also says teachers have a difficult job, which is underpaid and having a good retirement plan helps him to remain in the career he loves.
Roosevelt High School teacher Rachel Haber says she came to the rally to “support my students and community.” She adds: “Oregon (schools) tend not to perform well. Portland has a lot of positive intentions. It’s time to back them up with action.”