Teachers take to the streets
A significant contingent of Canby educators and supporters lined both sides of Highway 99E in Canby Wednesday morning, holding signs to push for better K-12 funding as countless passersby honked their horns.
On the signs were slogans like, "I've got 99 problems and cuts to ed. funding has caused all of them," "Class size counts!!" and "My children deserve the best. Don't yours?"
Among the demonstrators was next year's Canby Education Association co-president Stefanie Agar, a fifth-grade teacher at Carus Elementary who fervently supports better school funding.
"[With] the 30 years of disinvestment in our public schools, we are in a state of crisis now," Agar said. "I was in 6th grade when Measure 5 passed. I felt like I got a great education in Oregon, but I have seen it just slowly erode away ever since then. And this is what our students need is more funding so we can give them the education they deserve."
The May 8 demonstration was part of a planned statewide teacher walkout that caused the preemptive closure of many Oregon schools, including Canby. It came just one day after Republican Senators staged something of a walkout of their own to prevent a quorum and delay the passage of a bill to raise $1 billion in new taxes for public education.
The bill, House Bill 3427, which passed in the House on a party-line vote on Wednesday, May 1 before going to the Senate, has been praised by the Oregon Education Association.
"This is a momentous proposal that could change the lives of Oregon students," said John Larson, high school English teacher and president of the OEA.
So for many, the Senate balk was disheartening.
"We were fighting for funding with Measure 97 a few years ago," Agar said. "My feeling was that it got defeated, but the people that were actively working to defeat it said, 'Well, we don't feel like this is the answer, but we're willing to come to the table and talk about another option.'
"This is another option," she said.
Republicans argue that the new tax money might not all go to education as promised, suggesting some would be needed to subsidize the state's public employee pension fund.
"The bill and the revenue it creates is not dedicated to schools…The only way to dedicate revenue is by a constitutional amendment, and we don't have one," said Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass. "The Legislature can absolutely change what this money is used for in the future."
Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, one of the tax plan's architects, called that criticism "a red herring."
"There's a cast-iron firewall around this fund. One hundred percent of it goes to education, in those three buckets that are clearly delineated in the bill, and none of it's going to PERS. None of it's going to remodel offices," Hass said.
He conceded, "The Legislature could change the law. But in the years I've been here, these funds are usually pretty sacrosanct, and I think that's what will occur here. You know, if there's a giant earthquake, who knows? But you could say that about any one of the dedicated funds that we have here."
In the Senate, Democrats appear to have the necessary 18 votes to pass the bill, meaning the walkout was the only way to block passage. But the bill won't go away. It still sits in the Senate, awaiting a third reading and the return of the Republican senators.
Aubrey Wieber contributed to this story.