School board members essential to fostering changes, Merkley says
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Teacher, student and parent dialogue with school boards is essential to dealing with racial issues, Sen. Jeff Merkley said Wednesday.
The Oregon Democrat held a Zoom meeting Wednesday with members of the OSBA Legislative Policy Committee and the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus leadership. The caucus promotes improving education with an emphasis on the needs of students of color. The LPC provides policy guidance for OSBA and advocates for education issues.
The 30-minute question-and-answer conversation touched on funding, community colleges, school liability during the pandemic, school services and internet connectivity, among other things.
Merkley said it was important to have discussions about discrimination, racial injustice and systemic racism and how they affect students and educators. He said it was too easy for white people to avoid wrestling with the problems.
Merkley pointed to the federal Heroes Act to help with many of schools’ current fiscal challenges. The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion coronavirus emergency relief bill. It has stalled in the Senate, where it has met Republican resistance.
“The urgency is huge for everyone except Majority Leader (Sen. Mitch) McConnell,” Merkley said.
Merkley and Kelli Horvath, his state field director, emphasized the power of personal stories from people in education to shift the discussion toward what students need.
“Being able to share the stories, including on an educational level in our schools and community colleges, to paint the picture of what inaction means ... is helpful right now,” Horvath said.
Merkley and Horvath also asked Oregon school board members to work with their counterparts in other states to pressure Congress.
Merkley was among a bipartisan group of 27 senators saying the next round of coronavirus funding should have more for education.
“Less than 1% of the CARES Act funding was specifically dedicated to supporting public schools,” a letter to Senate leaders said. “This is insufficient to stabilize education through this crisis.”