Once again, the Oregonian Editorial Board has revealed just how far removed they are from the priorities of Portland voters. Once again, they’ve gone on record as advocating for more tax breaks—particularly for large property owners—over the need to fund our schools and reduce class sizes.
On Monday, and then again today, the Oregonian opinion honchos—led by Erik Lukens—called on the Portland School Board to put forward a plan that would cut the rate of the school levy that received wide support from voters in 2012. Why? The details are as wonky as they are ultimately unimportant, but the short version is because Lukens & Co. claim the school funding “crisis has abated” since the levy was passed.
I don’t know what town Erik Lukens and his employees are living in, but to claim the school funding crisis “has abated” is to completely ignore all obvious evidence. It seems clear that they haven’t been near a public school classroom in recent years—or even spoken with anyone who has. Talk to anyone connected to a public school (parent, teacher, student, etc.) and you’ll hear that classrooms are still overcrowded and that there are fewer educational opportunities than there were just a few years ago.
All Oregon schools—Portland Public Schools included—are still desperately underfunded, and our kids are getting shortchanged. While corporate profits and incomes for the top 1% may have fully recovered (and then some) since the end of the recession, our classrooms have not.
It is a basic fact that PPS has fewer teachers than it did just a few years ago. In fact, there were 199 fewer teachers in PPS schools in the 2012-13 school year than in 2007-08. There was an uptick in teachers following the passage of the levy, but the figures are still well below pre-recession levels.
And with fewer educators to teach students, class sizes go up. Remember, Oregon as a whole already has one of the highest class sizes in the nation, and one of the shortest school years. Statewide, we lost 3,574 teachers between 2007-08 and 2012-13, and that doesn’t even take into account all of the other education professionals who keep our schools running.
There’s also a new report that support staff are being laid off this year. Some 70 members of the Portland Federation of School Professionals—which represents educational assistants, library staff, and para-educators—have been “unassigned,” which means they could be headed for layoffs.
Oregon’s schools have been in a perpetual funding crisis since the ‘90s, when funding became primarily the responsibility of the state legislature. We’re at least $2 billion below what experts say we need in order to offer a “quality education,” and that gap isn’t narrowing to any substantial degree.
To suggest that the crisis “has abated” is to live in a fantasy world. In the real world, students are crammed into overcrowded classrooms, core subjects like art and PE have been slashed, and the school year is embarrassingly short.
It’s clear that the Oregonian Editorial Board is so enamored with the idea of tax cuts that they can’t see the obvious truth in front of them. Thankfully, the Portland School Board—for now, at least—doesn’t appear to be following their advice.