by Amanda Litvinov
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If Oregon voters approve Measure 97 this November, schools and seniors will receive much-needed help.
According to educators and community organizers, the state will be able to:
- Reduce class sizes by hiring 8,000 more teachers
- Decrease out-of-pocket costs for health care
- Help 20,000 seniors retire in dignity by providing them with quality in-home care, and
- Hold big corporations accountable for their fair share in taxes.
Parents, educators and other concerned citizens have worked for months to educate fellow voters about the state’s fiscal crisis and the clearest solution to stabilizing schools: Ask corporations with annual state sales exceeding $25 million to pay their fair share in taxes, and dedicate the revenue—an estimated $6 billion per biennium—to improving schools, health care and senior services.
“Do we put corporate profits first or our children and families’ well-being first?” asked Eugene teacher Lisa Fragala.
Oregon currently has the lowest corporate tax rate in the nation, resulting in a revenue shortage that is nowhere more evident than in the state’s public schools. There is a $2 billion shortfall in Oregon’s education budget.
Fragala has seen a noticeable reduction in critical services and opportunities for students in her 15 years teaching in District 4J.
“We’ve really divested from public education and it’s having an impact on the quality of services that we provide,” said Fragala.
“We have 30 children in our kindergarten classes. I don’t think that’s what’s best for young children. We have 500 students at my school and no counselor this year. We have a nurse one day a week. Kids have to wait months in a queue to see the school psychologist who is also here just one day a week.”
Seeing first-hand the school system’s inability to meet the needs of her socioeconomically diverse students is what inspired Fragala to become a leader in the Better Oregon coalition of groups supporting the corporate tax ballot measure.
“Passing this measure could increase school budgets as much as 25-30 percent by some estimates,” said Fragala. “That would mean smaller class sizes, appropriate staffing, enrichment activities, better technology and also wraparound services in communities that need them.”
Hanna Vaandering, an elementary physical education teacher and president of the Oregon Education Association, said when the signatures were certified to put the initiative on the ballot, “As educators, we listen to parents, we’re part of the community. We look into the eyes of our students. And we know they deserve more.
“It’s the right thing to do not only for students, but for all Oregonians.”