Colton, Molalla teachers rally after school
Despite Colton and Molalla schools not closing Wednesday, May 8 for the statewide teacher walkout, still after school, local educators rallied along with those across the state for better school funding.
At Molalla River Middle School, teachers simply walked out together wearing red for ed promptly at 3 p.m. One teacher noted others had left to rally in Portland.
In Colton, school supporters including teachers, non-teaching staff, administrators and board members rallied together at the corner of Highway 211 and Wall Street with a large banner that read, "Please fund our schools."
Earlier, a sea of red descended upon Portland's waterfront park.
"Today's massive turnout from educators and public school supporters sends a simple and powerful message to state lawmakers: our students need you to step up and fully fund their schools and they need it now," said John Larson, high school English teacher and president of the Oregon Education Association.
The demonstrations 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," said Canby teacher Stefanie Agar. "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.