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Measure 97 Nets Millions For and Against, But What Do Educators Think?

Measure 97 could add $3 billion a year to Oregon's budget for education, health care and senior services. (Cel Lisboa/Unsplash)
Measure 97 could add $3 billion a year to Oregon's budget for education, health care and senior services. (Cel Lisboa/Unsplash)
October 12, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. - Oregonians will get their ballots one week from today, and among the biggest initiatives they will decide on is Measure 97, which would create a 2.5 percent tax on corporations that make $25 million in gross sales.

Campaign contributions for and against the measure have swelled as the election nears. More than $7 million have flowed in from supporters and more than $17 million from opponents. Caught in the crossfire of ads and money are schools, which could gain $3 billion a year from the tax.

Judy Harris, a language-arts teacher at Hanby Middle School near Medford, said the current state of Oregon schools isn't enough to give kids a proper education.

"The textbooks in our science classrooms are 25 years old, and we're supposed to get these kids ready with 21st-century skills? It's not measuring up," she said. "We had to retire an entire computer lab because we couldn't afford to replace the computers, and they no longer were even supported with the new upgrades to software."

Critics have said the tax will be passed onto consumers as higher costs. The biggest donors to the opposition campaign include Comcast, Chevron and Wells Fargo, as well as the state's biggest retail grocery chains, Fred Meyer and Safeway. The Oregon Education Association, the state teacher's union, is the largest donor in support of the measure.

Harris said students have relied on schools for much more than education since the recession and the economic hardships that followed for families.

"We're getting very close to having to feed some of our students three meals a day. We're already sending sacks of food home with these students every weekend, so that they have some food to access over the weekend," she said. "And schools are being tasked with that, but we're not receiving the funding to support that mission."

Sabrina Gordon, a reading specialist at Aubrey Park Elementary School in Eugene, said supporters of Measure 97 in Oregon's schools don't have coffers nearly as large as their opponents, so they're relying on grassroots efforts to get their message out.

"Teachers are working 50, 60, 70 hours a week in their classrooms to be ready for students, and then they're coming in the evening to phone bank," she said. "And they're spending time on their Saturdays to walk around and talk to people, and that's how we can get our voice out there and make this happen."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR