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May 8 event planned in response to legislature's proposed education budget, which OEA president called 'deeply inadequate'

Educators around the state may walk out of their schools on May 8, urging the legislature to invest in students.

Oregon Education Association President John Larson called educators and families to participate on that date in a response to the legislature's school funding proposal, which was released last week and which Larson called "deeply inadequate."

"I am appalled and outraged that our lawmakers haven't gotten the message that our schools are in crisis," Larson said in a press conference March 7. "Not only does their recommendation leave out any additional investment in our schools, but it actually calls for cuts."

Larson added, "The choice to truly invest in our schools has been in front of us before and we have not met the challenge. But this year is different because we will make it different. I ask educators, parents and public school families around the state to stand up and stand together for students on May 8. Thirty years of disinvestment have put our schools into crisis, and today is the breaking point for me and for educators around the state."

Larson went on to describe how teachers in other states have walked out of their classrooms and received higher funding as a result.

Governor Kate Brown's budget called for reduced class sizes in lower grades and ensuring districts are able to provide a full academic year. The legislature's proposed budget undercuts Brown's budget by $100 million.

Republican Representative Christine Drazan, of Canby, who serves on the Ways and Means Education subcommittee, said in a press release that she was pleased to see the budget committee's recommendation was based on current law. She told The Herald that while the governor proposes a budget, "it is the legislature that is responsible for balancing our state budget and adopting a spending plan."

Ultimately, she noted the legislature and the school districts must work together to make the budget work.

"We must adequately fund our schools, but we have to be partners with our school districts, who control how these education dollars are spent," Drazan said. "To make the most effective use of every dollar we need schools to work with us to prioritize student learning with a laser focus on improving our graduation rates and getting as much funding into the classroom as possible."

The current budget is still in process and likely will not be finalized until June 2019.

"I support funding schools first, instead of last as they have done for so many years now," Drazan said. "But to allow for full public input and a clearer sense of available revenues we must let the ways and means process work."

The Ways and Means Committee is holding public hearings, which Drazan encourages community members to attend and to engage in the conversation.

Upcoming hearings will be held: Friday, March 15 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Blue Mountain Community College Pioneer Hall in Pendleton; Saturday, March 16 from 2-4 p.m. at Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center in Redmond; and Thursday, March 21 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Portland Community College's Cascade MAHB 104 Auditorium in Portland.

Hearings or no, it seems educators will be heard this year as many prepare for the May 8 event. One Portland fourth-grade teacher made it clear exactly why she would be answering Larson's call.

"Today, I stand in representation of the incredible educators who are tired of putting their bodies over the gaping holes that are impossible to fill, but we show up anyway," said teacher Nichole Watson. "Today, I stand up for every student who shows up every day trusting that we will do right by them. The kids who live in the margins. The kids who persist in spite of a system designed for them to fail.

"I stand today and I will be standing with my fellow educators on May 8 taking action in their local school districts," she continued, "and I know each and every person here and who hears this message today will join us."

Kristen Wohlers
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