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Hundreds Of Teachers Gather To Demand Increased Education Funding

Across Oregon, teachers and supporters participated in a one-day walkout.  Thousands rallied and marched in the "Red for Ed" event, which follows other teacher walkouts and strikes in West Virginia, Los Angeles, and the Carolinas.  KLCC reporters Brian Bull and Chris Lehman provided this coverage of activities in Eugene and Salem.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Dave Wines, a teacher with Edgewood Elementary and member of the Eugene Education Association, concludes his speech before several hundred educators gathered at the Park Blocks this morning.

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Hundreds of Eugene-area teachers lined the streets today  as part of a statewide walkout.  As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, educators want legislators to increase school funding....

More than two dozen Oregon districts closed for the walkout, giving students a day off and teachers time to vent. In Eugene, many gathered at the Park Blocks in the downtown.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
The event drew many teachers and their supporters, who called on increased school funding, smaller class sizes, and more librarians, nurses, and counselors.

Erik Bishoff teaches photography and drafting at Willamette High School.  When asked what he considered the biggest burden for Oregon teachers today, he replied…

“Class sizes. 100 percent. When I reflect on my own time as a student, our class sizes were much smaller then.  I was able to find more mentor situations, more opportunities to learn in smaller groups, or even individually.

"Today, it’s really difficult to form relationships with students, and that’s something that our students really need.”

Property taxes were capped in 1990 through Measure 5, which critics say harmed school funding statewide. A bill in the statehouse would increasing education funding by 18 percent.Springfield schools did not hold a walkout, but took to Main Street after school instead.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Before the 11am event, hundreds of people were already gathered at the Park Blocks area in downtown Eugene.


Smaller classroom sizes, funding for PE, music, and the arts, and adequate mental health counseling. Those are just some of the things on Oregon educators’ wish list as they staged a statewide walkout today (WEDNESDAY).  We hear from our reporters in Eugene and Salem, starting with KLCC’s Brian Bull…

KLCC's Brian Bull and Chris Lehman report on the teacher walkout from Eugene and Salem.

The Park Blocks of the downtown was a sea of red, as hundreds of teachers in matching t-shirts and their supporters gathered for music and speakers.

Among them was Molly Nord.  She teaches at Cesar Chavez Elementary.  She says the pressing message overall is that schools need better funding now.

“Oregon has certain issues," says Nord.  "We don’t have a sales tax, there’s a lot of things that play into it, and there’s been ballot measures passed that have really hurt schools in the long-term.  And I think we all need to start planning and making sure that we have sure long-term funding for these kids.”

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Jennifer Scurlock, at the Eugene rally for Red for Ed.

One of the event organizers is Jennifer Scurlock, a 16-year veteran who’s currently an English teacher at Churchill High.  She says classrooms are too packed for students to have a quality learning experience. 

“According to national research, they suggested our classroom size, especially K through 3, are 18 students or lower. I’ve had classroom sizes even in this past year, of 36 to 38 students in an Advanced Placement class," she says.  

"And so we’re seeing where kids are struggling because they don’t get the one-on-one time that they need with a teacher.”

Scurlock adds that the well-being of Oregon’s students is also jeopardized until more money is spent on schools.

“We do not have enough counselors, we do not have mental support specialists…even having a nurse on staff, our nurse is shared amongst multiple schools.”

The big fix that educators – and Democrats – are pushing for, is passage of House Bill 3427, known as the Student Success Act. It’d put a billion dollars a year towards education funding if passed.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
On a corner across from the Park Blocks, supporters display a banner to passing traffic.

That’s in the hands of lawmakers, as my colleague in Salem, KLCC’s Chris Lehman, explains…

It’s a bill that’s being held up in a political standoff between Democrats and Republicans in the Oregon Senate. Most GOP lawmakers haven’t reported for work at the capitol this week. By denying a quorum, they’ve been able to delay the tax package from moving forward, at least for the time being.

That stalemate was a hot topic under the blazing sun of Salem’s Riverfront Park. Democratic Representative Barbara Smith Warner, who helped write the tax bill, told the crowd she thought the measure was bound to pass eventually.

“What has been our goal all along? Dedicated, stable funding for education. We are almost there.”

After a round of speeches, the two thousand or more teachers and students in attendance marched about ten blocks to the Oregon Capitol.

Maraline Ellis joined the stream of people who filled State Street from curb to curb. She’s been a teacher in the Salem-Keizer School District for nearly 30 years.

“The most significant deficit that we face right now is really staffing,” Ellis tells KLCC. “Our class sizes are beyond comprehension compared to what I was used to when I started teaching.”

When the marchers arrived at the capitol, many of them flooded the rotunda and the building filled up with the sound of chants and songs.

For KLCC News, I’m Chris Lehman in Salem.

Copyright 2019, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018 and became News Director in March, 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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