I went into this Legislative Session with some big goals, and I want to reflect on them with you now that the session is half over.
I came down to Salem at the beginning of this month hoping to start a conversation about our schools. You've heard it all before: lost school days, lost electives, laid off teachers and bigger and bigger class sizes. A recent article in the Oregonian said Hillsboro School District is tied for the second largest average elementary school class size in the Metro area.
I wanted to start a conversation about these kind of statstics and where we can look for the funding our schools desperatelty need to improve. Some people are already saying the solution is more taxes, or higher taxes. I'm open to that conversation. But before we talk about more taxes for middle class families, we need to talk about the tax breaks we give to out-of-state corporations.
We've been lucky enough to bring some attention to this issue, and although we're still trying to find a bill we can pass this session, I'm glad that we have planted the seeds for a conversation next year. Throughout the last few months I've learned a lot about these tax breaks and how the Legislature and regular Oregonians think about them. Here are a few things I've learned:
Snow days! When you’re a kid - the best school day is a snow day. While I sit getting cabin fever at home, I figured I’d drop you a note about some of the things we’ve been working on.
We had a town hall recently to make sure we were getting the most up-to-date information about how chronic underfunding of our schools undercuts opportunity for our kids (click here if you missed it).
On January 29th, we filled a room with teachers, parents, advocates, and community members, all with different perspectives and solutions for our schools. You could feel the frustration and exasperation in the room. You know the story - it still makes me cringe each time I hear it: 30+ students in a class, disappearing electives, old textbooks, no computers, too many standardized tests, higher expectations with fewer resources, the list goes on and on.
It's no secret that our schools have struggled since the recession. According to a recent article in the New York Times Oregon's school employees per 100 students has gone down from 16.5 in 2008 to 14.8 in 2013. Oregon has the nation's third highest class sizes, with secondary schools reporting 30-35 student classes. If you’re a parent or a teacher in one of these overflowing classrooms then this is not news to you. Teachers simply can't give students the attention they need.
The main cause of the problem is no secret either: School budget cuts have been the name of the game for the last decade. Washington County schools have had to cut over 500 teachers between 2006-07 and 2012-13, while serving over 3000 more students. The Legislature created a historic education budget last year, adding crucial dollars back into classrooms, but it is still $1.9 billion short of the quality education model we need.