Several hundred teachers and their supporters in downtown Medford joined tens of thousands more across Oregon who rallied and marched Wednesday to demand more funding for public schools.
The rally at Alba Park was awash in the red T-shirts that have become the emblem of the “Red for Ed” movement across the US, as teachers push to reverse what they call decades of disinvestment in public education.
Ashland High School teacher Cambria Floren told the crowd in Medford the reductions in staff and services she’s seen in recent years are degrading the quality of their children’s education.
"Cutting our support staff, increasing our class sizes, overwhelming our teachers with new, added duties and responsibilities.," she said. "All of this impacts our students the most."
Brittany Brady is a special education teacher at Wilson Elementary in Medford. She says more students than ever are arriving at school with severe behavioral problems.
"I’ve had my classroom torn up before, books thrown everywhere, shelves and tables, desks flipped over," she said. "Kids are hurting other kids."
Brady says her school has only one mental health counselor, one day a week and there’s a waiting list for those services.
Eduardo Steiger, a teacher at Roosevelt Elemenraty School in Medford, said class size is his main issue.
"That’s the number one thing I’m out here fighting for because I think every kid deserves to have a teacher that can be there for them when they need them," he said.
Southern Oregon teachers held similar actions in Ashland, Grants Pass and Klamath Falls, as well.
Speakers at the Medford rally called on Oregon legislators to approve a new billion-dollar-a-year business tax to fund education. Democrats in the House have already passed the bill. It was slated for a vote in the Senate Wednesday, but Senate Republicans stayed away, denying majority Democrats the quorum they needed to pass the measure.
Republicans say the state’s Public Employee Retirement System is draining away money that could be going to schools. They want a fix to that system, rather than a new tax.