Tens of thousands of teachers, school counsellors, parents, children, and concerned citizens convened at Portland’s Waterfront Park this morning to demand funding for the state’s public schools.
Downtown became a sea of red as an estimated crowd of more than 20,000, many wearing “red for ed,” listened to speakers including Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses and you can have a faculty meeting at any Oregon public school,” she told assembled crowds who waved signs demanding better funding for schools and an investment in education.
Those gathered then marched around 12 downtown city blocks, the crowd extending so far that marchers were finishing as others were just beginning. Also present was Portland Public School Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, who watched the march stream by.
“I don’t think anybody here has a shortage of ideas of investments we could make in our children so they have a full and excellent educational program, including the supports our students have a right to: early education, counsellors, librarians, summer school and after school programs, materials, curriculum, training,” he told Portland Monthly. “It’s an overdue, long laundry list of things we should have done all along.”
Today’s action was part of a statewide walkout by teachers hoping to put pressure on legislators to provide more funding for elementary education. Many school districts were closed for the day as a result of the walkout. A proposal to raise certain business taxes to boost the money going into schools has been passed by the House, and returns to the Senate today after Republican representatives yesterday absented themselves from the vote yesterday.
Many of those present were specifically protesting larger class sizes, with signs reading “35 is a speed limit, not a class size” and “class size matters.” Many were also advocating for more support teachers, in protest at funding cuts that have seen many schools lose vital wraparound services for their students.
The huge turnout for today’s protest, organized by the Oregon Education Association, was a clear signal to legislators to prioritize education.
“It’s an amazing show of support,” said Guerrero. “It’s not surprising because I know that families, people in Portland and statewide, recognize this is a critically important issue. This is the moment in time to make an important decision—an easy one I believe. It’s going to help put our schools back on top and give our students the kind of investment in their future that’s should be prioritized.”