Education advocates continue to push for more state funding

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Education advocates continue to push for more state funding

Published 5:44 p.m. PT March 27, 2017 | Updated 10:11 a.m. PT March 28, 2017

Advocates for increased education funding continue to put pressure on the Oregon Legislature to allocate more money for schools, staff, students and services.

This week, educators from across the state are using spring break to tell legislators what they think will happen in their classrooms and to their students without adequate funding for schools.

Among the issues addressed Monday, Oregon Education Association representatives and supporters talked about large class sizes, staff cuts and the lack of resources for students due to funding.

Kelsy Dunlap, a teacher at McKay High School in Salem, has 46 students in one of her classes. She said she was still learning their names three months into the school year.

“That’s not who I am as an educator,” she said at a press conference at the Capitol on Monday. “If I (hadn’t) talked to the student by then, I’m wondering who has? Who knows what she needs, who knows what’s going on at home, who’s going to her parents and telling them how great of a student she is?”

The student’s name is Vanessa. Dunlap said she will never forget her name now, but she still can’t connect the same way with each student when there are so many.

A few students from Eugene shared their experiences Monday as well, some mentioning the difficulty of getting help from counselors and other staff when dozens of other students are seeking help with the same problem.

Hanna Vaandering, OEA president, said these cuts impact students’ abilities to succeed, saying relationships with educators is a key indicator of graduation rates, especially for first-generation students, students of color, and students navigating poverty.

“Frankly, I’m tired of talking about school funding,” she said. “Oregonians support public education; it’s time we fund it.”

The association worked with the Oregon School Boards Association and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators to produce Oregon Rising, a project that surveyed more than 10,000 Oregon residents about their top priorities in education, including adding staff and teachers. An OSBA poll also showed Oregonians value education above most things when it comes to legislative priorities.

According to the Quality Education Model report, the proposed K-12 budget should be $9.9 billion.

The current K-12 state budget is $7.4 billion. While proposed budgets for the upcoming biennium — including the co-chairmen’s budget of $7.8 billion, the Governor’s budget of $8 billion, and the Oregon Association of School Business Officials’ $8.4 billion — would maintain current services for K-12 education, and in some cases expand services, it isn’t clear how much the legislature will approve or exactly how it will be used.

Oregon was ranked in 2016 as 35th in the country for state funding. Additionally, Oregon has the third-largest class size. Salem has an average class size of 25 students in its K-12 system.

Elisabeth Thiel, a teacher from Portland, also spoke at the press conference Monday.

“We’ve already cut down (to) the bone — we are just now deciding what to amputate,” she said.

Vaandering said one of the ways to address these issues is to “ask corporations to pay their fair share.” She advocated for business and state leaders to have a conversation with associations like OEA to find more solutions and revenue options.

Last week, Oregon Senate Republicans presented two senate joint resolutions to prioritize education funding.

“We don’t have the Oregon we deserve,” Vaandering said. “(The 44,000 educators across the state) need support from the legislature now; our future depends on it.”

Contact Natalie at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

By the numbers

*This is supposed to maintain current levels of teachers and programs.

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