Thousands of educators, students and community members from across Oregon gathered at the State Capitol on Monday, Feb. 18, calling for more state funding for education and public schools. The rally, which was coined “March for Our Students” and was organized by the Oregon Education Association (OEA), began at the Capitol steps at 10 a.m., where a sea of protestors in “Red for Ed” shirts and accompanying signs joined together to lobby their legislators for change.
As yellow school buses filled with activists from Portland and Eugene pulled up to the Capitol, high school band students from North Marion High School in Aurora, OR and Sheldon High School in Eugene, OR entertained the crowd with pep band songs, and Spartacapella, an a capella group from Corvallis High School, performed a rendition of “I Lived” by OneRepublic. Groups such as the Licensed School Librarians passed out stickers with the slogan “Overdue” printed on them, and signs displayed on the Capitol Mall noted just how large class sizes are throughout Oregon: 34 students per class in Elmira Elementary School in Elmira, Shady Grove School in Eagle Point and Clarks Elementary School in Mulino.
“I’m starting to see how hard this is,” said Lilly Beltz, a first grade teacher at a Spanish immersion school in Portland. Beltz has only been teaching in public schools for two years, and is still working on her Master’s degree, but she’s already feeling the impacts of low funding in education. “I’m lucky to have a small class, but the kids aren’t getting the specialized education services that they’re legally supposed to have or the language services they’re legally supposed to have.”
The event officially kicked off with remarks from OEA President John Larson, who has taught English at Hermiston High School in Hermiston, OR since the 1990s.
“We’re here from everywhere in Oregon!” he said to the crowd. “This is a holiday, a three-day weekend, and there are more than 3,000 of you out here taking your Monday, that would be a day off, to come and say we need funding for our schools. We have 42 school boards across the state that have passed resolutions saying we need funding, and we need more.”
The march’s featured speaker was Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. Representative from Oregon’s 1st District, and current member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. After her speech, protestors took to the streets, heading west on blocked-off roads and looping back to the Capitol. Students, teachers and families were then able to fill out comment cards and drop them off personally in legislators’ offices inside the Capitol.
While Presidents Day wasn’t a day off for Willamette University, WU students were still able to interact with the march. Claire Mathews-Lingen (‘21) was interning in Representative Rachel Prusak’s office when the lobbying began.
“It was so exciting to see young students being so involved in the political process,” she said. “My representative put candy out, so we had children coming through our office. Several teachers delivered letters with their students, and it was really cool to see that they were learning about this in their classrooms and wanted to share their views and thoughts with their representatives at such a young age.”
Oregon’s march is one of many education-oriented protests that have occurred across the nation in the past several months. According to the National Education Association, the Red for Ed movement began in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma as a way for educators to call for higher wages and funding and has since spread. In January, over 30,000 teachers went on strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District, as reported by The New York Times. According to CBS News, educators in Denver were awarded an 11.7 percent raise after striking for three days earlier this month.
“All across the nation, the Red for Ed movement is spreading,” said Larson in his speech. “We saw it last year in North Carolina and Arizona, and now we’re going to see it here in Oregon as well.”