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The Oregon Teacher Walkout Isn't About Pay Raises

Tens of thousands of Oregon teachers walked out to pressure the state legislature into passing a $2 billion corporate tax package

by Rex Santus
May 8 2019, 6:44pm

Oregon Republicans did such a great job of appreciating teachers this week — coincidentally National Teachers Appreciation Week — that tens of thousands of them walked out Wednesday and closed down at least 600 schools.

The walkout is meant to pressure the state legislature into passing a $2 billion corporate tax package, which would give public schools as well as universities funding they desperately need, according to the Oregonian. All 12 Republicans in the state Senate did not show up Tuesday to vote on the tax package, which brought the measure to a halt. The bill would impose a new corporate tax on the state’s wealthiest businesses to raise revenue.

Notably, the teachers’ walkout demands have nothing to do with pay raises, as other recent teacher strikes did. Instead, the protests are more a philosophical action related to public education funding in the United States. Oregon teachers are demanding better funding for public schools in the state, which has among the largest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the country. Teachers say their schools need more support staff — such as nurses and guidance counselors — and smaller class sizes.

Among startling stats: In Oregon, there’s one nurse for every 5,481 students in public schools, according to the Oregon Education Association. Separately, there are just 158 librarians in the entire state.

The Portland district, with about 46,000 students, was among those that closed over the Wednesday walkouts.

Oregon’s walkouts are the latest in a wave of teacher strikes that has swept the United States in the last year and a half. In 2018, 485,000 workers caused “major work stoppages,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — up from just 25,000 in 2017. That enormous, three-decade high was caused by teachers and other education workers: 379,000 of them.

Teachers strikes have resuscitated a stagnating U.S. labor movement, even as nationwide union membership numbers remain at historic lows. Oregon is one of the few states where teacher strikes are legally permitted, but even in states where they are outlawed, teachers are still walking out of their classrooms to fight for better pay, benefits, and funding for public schools.

Cover: Teachers and supporters gather at the intersection of 29th Ave. and Willamette St. in Eugene, Ore, Wednesday, May 8, 2019, during a walkout in support of more funding for education in Oregon. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)