A sea of 2,000 red-clad teachers from Bend-La Pine Schools, parents, kids and even dogs flooded downtown Bend on Wednesday afternoon as part of a statewide effort to urge Oregon lawmakers to fully fund schools.
The passionate crowd joined tens of thousands of teachers across Oregon to pressure the Legislature into passing the $2 billion Student Success Act, which aims to improve K-12 education through a business activities tax. People in Bend gathered after school Wednesday, but schools were closed for all or part of the day in 25 districts statewide.
Outside the Bend-La Pine office on NW Wall Street, the crowd chanted, cheered and waved signs that read “Today, we use our outside voices” and “Kids need counselors! Kids need art! Kids need you to vote with your heart!”
One small child held a sign that read: “Invest in me.”
The sign held by Jodi Anderson, a third grade teacher at W.E. Miller Elementary, was simple but direct: “Underfunded since before I was born.” She was born in 1984.
“For over 30 years, in this state, education has not been adequately funded,” she said. “Enough is enough.”
Before the crowd marched, a series of speakers — Bend Education Association President Janelle Rebick, Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay Mikalson, Bend High School office manager and support staff employee of the year Mary Hofer and Bend-La Pine School Board members Andy High and Peggy Kinkade — described why they were marching.
“Every single day, we see what Oregon’s disinvestment in education looks like,” Hofer said.
“Disinvestment looks like sitting in high school core classes of up to 40 students. Our students deserve better.”
Mikalson said the Student Success Act was “the best opportunity in memory” to financially support Oregon’s classrooms.
“My message is simple: The time to invest in the promise of public education is now,” he said.
The march was at times loud, upbeat and heated when speakers complained about school funding.
The Summit High School drum line and High Desert Middle School’s jazz band joined the group, creating a charged atmosphere.
At a table in front of the district office, participants could write postcards that asked lawmakers to vote for the Student Success Act, or thank-you notes to educators.
Redmond creamery Eberhard’s Dairy gave out free ice cream to teachers, and a majority of Bend breweries offered free or discounted beverages to teachers after the event, partially to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.
The rally drew plenty of parents, many of whom were concerned about school funding.
“In smaller class sizes, (my son) could get more attention,” said Lizz Allen, mother of a kindergartner at Lava Ridge Elementary. “With more classes like art and music, he gets to broaden his education.”
Donnie Jewell, a retired teacher from the Seattle area, was there to support both her daughter, a teacher at Summit, and her grandkids, who attend Summit High and Cascade Middle School.
“I’m just shocked at Oregon,” she said. “My daughter has never taught under 200 students in a day, and in Washington, you couldn’t teach over 150, or you got paid more.”
The Bend-La Pine teachers were part of a large, organized effort to support the Student Success Act.
The Oregon Education Association, the statewide teachers union, reported that more than 600 schools closed their doors Wednesday as teachers walked out. A majority of those were in the Portland metro area, but a few districts in other regions shut down school as well, such as Eugene and Bethel school districts in Lane County, Central School District in Polk County and Klamath Falls City Schools.
About 20,000 people met Wednesday morning and marched through downtown Portland, and Salem saw a crowd of more than 3,000.
In Central Oregon, after-school rallies and marches were also held in Redmond, Madras, Sisters and La Pine. Teachers in Crook County School District held a “walk-in,” where they all wore red and walked into their schools together as a unit.
At the La Pine rally, the speakers included Bend-La Pine school board members Ron Gallinat and Stuart Young, education association board member and Rosland Elementary fifth grade teacher Matthew Haney and Jim Boen, the district’s executive director of south county and middle school programs.
The Oregon Education Association said the walkout and rallies were a response to large class sizes, low graduation rates — only two states have worse graduation rates, according to the organization — not enough librarians, counselors and nurses in schools and other issues tied to a lack of statewide education funding. A 2018 Oregon Department of Education study said the state currently underfunds education by about $1.96 billion.
The Student Success Act, if passed, would provide millions of grant dollars to Central Oregon school districts, including about $14.3 million for Bend-La Pine.
The bill’s delayed progress in the Legislature cast a shadow on Wednesday’s event. After passing the state House, Oregon Senate Republicans, including Tim Knopp, R-Bend, decided to not show up to a planned vote on the Student Success Act on Tuesday, denying the chamber enough members to move forward. GOP senators boycotted the vote again Wednesday, with Knopp as the Republicans’ lone representative to show up.
Republicans say the tax plan would raise the prices of consumer goods without fixing the education system. They also said they would not support a funding package that doesn’t address the state’s pension debt, which has soared past $25 billion.
During her speech in Bend, Rebick expressed anger towards the absent Republican lawmakers.
“Instead of showing up and voting on sustainable funding, they chose to walk out and stall,” she said, prompting fierce boos from the crowd. “Our kids cannot wait any longer.”
Then, as Rebick prepared to lead the crowd down NW Bond Street, she begged parents and teachers to call their legislators and demand that they pass the Student Success Act.
“If we don’t stand up for our school kids,” she said, “who will?”
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, firstname.lastname@example.org