BY TOBIAS READ
My conversations with Oregon parents and educators make it clear to me we are headed towards a crisis in our public schools.
Remote learning has resulted in a drop in proficiency scores in math and reading, and a stark increase in the number of high school students no longer on track to graduate on-time. Ask almost any parent and they’ll tell you how much happier their kids are being back in school.
Meanwhile, teachers have been stretched to the breaking point, juggling remote learning, safety protocols and mental health challenges of their own and their students.
I want to be clear, as Governor, when responding to the impending crisis in our public schools, I will prioritize keeping kids in the classroom.
As a parent of two kids in public schools, it’s clear to me that our kids need in-class instruction now more than ever—to make up for lost learning over the last two years; to preserve their mental health through social interaction; and to allow working parents to continue to work. And that’s why we should be talking about providing more in-class learning opportunities through summer learning and enrichment programs.
I believe we must come up with solutions that keep kids in the classroom while giving teachers the support they need. We have to do both.
In the short term, I think we need to provide emergency funding for our schools to give them the resources they need.
First, we need to get more mental health professionals into our schools. Teachers tell me the level of need their students are facing far exceeds what schools can provide, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels. And we should also look at providing more support for our teachers and staff to better cope with the stress and demands they’re facing.
Because of staffing shortages, I believe we should put out an urgent call to retired teachers and ask them to come back to the classroom. We should follow that up by easing the administrative hurdles that might be in the way. In addition, we should offer retention bonuses for teachers and staff willing to commit to stay on in their current position for the next few school years, providing a measure of stability and predictability for school districts across the state.
In the long-term, it’s clear we need to incentivize the next crop of public school teachers by looking at loan forgiveness or down-payment assistance for students graduating from Oregon colleges and universities who commit to a career in teaching.
This is an all-hands on deck moment. Our kids cannot afford another lost year of instruction. And our teachers need more support to keep their classrooms running.
Finally, we have to tackle the looming Covid threat of new and existing variants. I continue to support a vaccine mandate for all teachers, staff AND students to keep everyone safe and our schools open. To prevent widespread quarantining and school shutdowns, we need to give school districts the ability to test every student weekly and prevent Covid from spreading.
The upcoming special legislative session would be a perfect time to deal with this pressing issue and provide the urgent funding needed to keep our schools running.
This is not just a short term crisis—it will have lasting consequences for our kids’ future and the quality of our schools and teachers. We need to treat this crisis with the urgency it demands. Our teachers, our kids, and our future all depend on it.