by Susan Barrett
For over a year I have had exchanges with others in my school district that feel the only way to deal with the lack of funding for schools is to close many of them. I understand this desperation stemming from continual cuts to our schools, but we shouldn't give in to this, especially when schools in our most historically under-served communities are the targets. We should not be fighting against each other. We should be banding together to stop the madness brought about by years of disinvestment in public education.
But, it is not just my district having issues. In my neighboring community, teachers are on strike. They are the fourth district in the state to face this. They have been struggling to negotiate for a fair contract with those who feel the economic climate is ripe for attacking public sector employees. These are teachers. They don't want to picket and deal with contract negotiations. They want to teach! They are the people we entrust our kids to. Most of them work countless hours, under such enormous pressure and with limited resources. On top of all this, they are dealing with federal and state mandates they never asked for, (and as parents we never asked for).
And, then I have my friends in communities that tried to pass levies to fill in some of the holes in their school budgets brought about by decades of disinvestment. Some were successful, some weren’t. In each case, these are community members spending countless hours, door-knocking, phone-banking, and organizing- running themselves ragged. It shouldn't be this hard!! If we truly value public education, then we need to provide adequate, equitable, stable funding.
I am frustrated and tired. Our kids deserve so much better, and as citizens we deserve better. People are desperate. We are fighting each other and pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, parents against parents, school boards against teachers, and who does this help? Not our kids. But, those who have no interest in tax reform are probably smiling. The last 5 years saw a 5% reduction in K-12 spending, yet the state's local tax breaks grew by 12%. And, you can bet those who pass “education reform packages” that take our right to vote for state superintendent away, and siphon our tax dollars from public schools to for-profit entities are pretty happy that many have been so focused on their own school's struggles they haven't noticed.
Over the past few years, our elementary class sizes have increased by 19%, our high school class sizes have increased by over 28%, and our school districts in Oregon have chopped away at their days, with one district cutting a total of 15 days this year! Music, art, libraries, shop, and many sports, once a part of public school education, are now only available to some, usually through fundraising.
These are OUR children, OUR schools, OUR future. As frustrated and tired as I am, I won't give up. This is too important. That is why I hope we band together as Oregonians for the May 31st Oregon Save Our Schools Action Day. This madness must end. Enough is Enough! Things will only get better if we come together and demand systemic change to our inequitable tax structure and fight against the forces that pull our public resources into meaningless school reforms that only line the pockets of private interests. The time is now. Let's do this.