Oregon teachers, students and parents walked out of schools statewide today to demand the Oregon Legislature pass a $2 billion education funding package.
In Portland, about 25,000 students, teachers and parents from 24 schools districts dressed in red and arrived at Tom McCall Waterfront Park shortly before noon.
"Today is about letting Salem hear us," said Lindsay Ray, a high school math teacher in Beaverton who introduced all those who spoke onstage.
The speakers included local counselors and teachers, as well as Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García. They demanded smaller class sizes, funding for electives, and more school counselors.
"Oregon schools have been starved and they are in a funding crisis," said Garcia.
Roberto Aguilar, who has been a counselor at Milwaukie High School for a decade, took the stage in front of the vast sea of red to address the school counselor deficit in Oregon.
"Daily, I feel like a failure," Aguilar said of his inability to serve so many students. He's responsible for the mental well being of 403 students, he said.
A Jefferson High School junior by the name of Jolly Wrapper performed a spoken word poem at the podium.
"They tell us to raise the bar but get mad when the bars start meeting; soon as my art starts speaking, my bars start peaking; that's when their ego starts shrinking, so they pull my cord right before my heart starts beating," spoke Wrapper.
Part of the impetus for the march is that the Oregon Legislature is currently considering a $2 billion corporate tax package, and teachers are pushing for that money to fund local area schools. But they face resistance on that plea, as key players are skeptical that the money will ever reach the classroom, and Republican senators stalled on Tuesday by refusing to show up for the vote.
"I think it's incredibly disappointing," said Suzanne Cohen, the president of the Portland Association of Teachers, about the no-show of the Republican senators. "This is a conversation that they know everybody across the state believes that our schools need more funding, our schools are inadequately funded. It's time to show up and have that conversation."
Ned Hascall, a teacher in Portland Public Schools for 20 years, stood by the fountain before the march started, donning a straw hat and toting a sign that read "Red for Ed." He currently teaches 6th grade at the Metropolitan Learning Center and says he's disenchanted by the legislators' refusal to give schools proper funding for support services.
"During my whole career, it's always been about cuts," Hascall said. "The support is here, people are showing up. It's time for (legislators) to start doing their job."
During the march, teachers could be heard lamenting larger class sizes and chatting about school funding. When a speaker would list a grievance, a collective "boo" would swell from the crowd in support.
Ruby Park, a sophomore at Wilson High School in SW Portland, said she was at the walkout because of a school peer counseling program that got cut from next year's budget.
"It's easier for a lot of the kids in our school to talk to students rather than adults about their problems," Park said. "I think that people think mental health isn't a big deal, especially in like suburbia Portland."
The walkout forced Oregon's largest school district, Portland Public Schools, to shut down classes for the day, adding a day to the academic calendar to compensate.