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End the evisceration of schools

Soapbox

Something is very wrong when classrooms are overcrowded, textbooks are out-of-date and school buildings are falling apart.

Students whose education funding is continually being cut cannot perform at a constantly increasing level. Portland Public Schools alone has had to cut 400 positions since 1991 because of inflation-adjusted losses that have exceeded $300 million in the past decade.

Additional cuts could lead to the rise of the district's student-to-teacher ratio from an already grave 28-to-1 to 35-to-1, meaning that some classes that currently have 40 students probably would top out at more than 50 students, further decreasing one-on-one interaction between students and teachers.

Other options, which are equally grim, involve shortening the school year, cutting the budget for alternative education programs, closing schools and outsourcing all custodial and nutritional services.

Oregon is filled with students who have never known an educational system that was free of dramatic budget cuts. As we watch class sizes grow and programs disappear, we fear that the Oregon Legislature does not understand that its actions could irreversibly cripple public education. We, representing the group Students for Oregon's Schools, are working toward two goals.

Our first goal is to ensure that the state makes zero cuts to the state education budget this year. Much of the budget cutting can be avoided. The Legislature could provide tens of millions of dollars for schools by temporarily freezing Measure 88, which would delay a tax cut for the middle and upper classes. We should follow the example of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and roll back the tax cut.

We also should follow Gov. John Kitzhaber's suggestions and raise 'sin' taxes Ñ taxes on cigarettes and alcohol Ñ to a level on par with the national average, issue bonds for road construction, delay prison construction and tap into the tobacco settlement. What we must not touch is the Common School Fund, which has been held in trust since 1859.

All of these options Ñ while necessary Ñ are only temporary. Our second goal is to find a long-term solution to ensure stable and adequate funding for public education. While we know that the prospect of raising taxes is unpopular with many, it is the only option that would ensure that the schools will have a solid fiscal foundation. Communities have an obligation to provide for the adequate education of their children.

A decade ago, Oregon had the 12th-highest taxes per capita in the United States. Now, Oregon has the sixth-lowest taxes per capita. We cannot cut taxes and continue to offer the same level of education that we did in the past.

We refuse to let the Legislature cut, once again, into the system that shaped our lives for the better. Solutions must be found, even unpopular ones. It is time for Oregonians to step up and support their schools.

Jennifer Lewis, 17, is the citywide student representative on the Portland Public Schools board. A resident of Southeast Portland, she attends Madison High School and is a member of the school's Smaller Learning Communities team.

Brian Wagner, 18, is the student representative from Grant High School to the Portland Public Schools board. He also is managing editor of the school newspaper, The Grantonian.

James Williams, 17, is the student body president at Lincoln High School and former student representative on the Portland Public Schools board. He lives in Southeast Portland.