As Portland Public Schools (PPS) teachers continue their strike for higher wages, more planning time, and better building conditions, tension is brewing between the district and Oregon legislators. 

Throughout the lengthy bargaining process between PPS and the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) union, the district has maintained it can't afford to accept the union's contract proposal without severe consequences for Portland schools. With PPS and the union at a stalemate, district leaders have decided to take a new approach, petitioning state legislators to "find the money," to fund Portland schools, as PPS Board Chair Gary Hollands put it at a press conference earlier this week. 

Oregon elected officials aren't proving receptive to district leaders' pleas. 

Gov. Tina Kotek has already rebuffed the district's requests for funding, saying more state money for education is off the table until the 2025 legislative session at the soonest. Now, legislators in the Oregon House and Senate have spoken out. In a letter sent to the PPS board on Thursday, November 2, 16 Portland-area representatives and senators said they disagree with the district's framing of how the last legislative session played out. 

"We were surprised to hear accusations that the Oregon Legislature did not adequately fund schools this past legislative session," the letter stated, adding legislators "listened to and worked with school districts (including PPS), educators, labor, and other advocates to fully fund schools at the amount they requested." 

The letter said with the unprecedented $10.3 billion in state funding and local property taxes, Oregon's K-12 public schools have a budget of $15.3 billion for the current two-year budget cycle—a record number for the state. 

The letter stated PPS spends 48 percent of its budget directly in the classroom, while "comparable districts" spend 55 to 56 percent, and says the district spends 6 percent of its budget on administration, compared to 2 to 3 percent elsewhere. Legislators called on the district to "right size its priorities, refocusing on classroom and student learning investments, and cutting superfluous administration spending." 

Legislators also directed the PPS board leaders to "take the reins of this situation."
"What our students need now is leadership that shows them you will do what it takes to invest in their futures, and that starts with coming to the table now. As educators say, their working conditions are student learning and living conditions," the letter said. "We all need to work together to support resolution with a contract that builds the schools our students deserve."
The letter was signed by legislators including Rep. Travis Nelson (D-44), Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-28), Sen. Lew Frederick (D-22), Sen. Elizabeth Steiner (D-17), Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D-14), Senate President Rob Wagner (D-19), and more. Some of the legislators who signed the letter have also expressed their support for Portland teachers separately. Steiner was scheduled to attend a union rally Friday, November 3, and many others have posted supportive statements on social media.
PPS and the union have said they are willing to negotiate into the weekend. The district plans to let families know if school is canceled by 7 pm on Sunday.