LINCOLN COUNTY — To start of his town hall meeting on Friday, Sen. Jeff Merkley called up the Sam Case Surfriders to recognize them for their work in the community. After congratulating them on the plastic bag ban that was passed in Newport and presenting them with an American flag, he allowed one of the students to crack the discussion open by asking the first question. He also allowed Sam Case Elementary teacher Olivia Schroeder to close the meeting with the last question.
There were a few Lincoln County School District students in attendance at the meeting, as well as a number of educators — both working and retired. So the room was at full attention when Schroeder took the mic.
“I obviously love being a teacher very much — I love my students, I work with amazing staff — but every year, we’re asked to do more with less. I’ve taught every level, every grade up there,” said Schroeder. “And my question is: on the national level, is there anything being done to support teachers and schools, so that we can continue to give the care (needed)? Because, every year I have more students than the year prior who have trauma and anxiety, and are affected by homelessness and poverty.”
Merkley thanked Schroeder for her question and remarked that “it’s a question of national resources — where are we going to put our dollars?” and proposed that the current $45 million being spent each year in Afghanistan be put to other uses — such as improving public schools.
“Now I have a specific bill on this, which is lower class sizes,” said Merkley. “It’s focused … on K through three, it’s endorsed by some of the National Education Association. It’s based on the research that says those first four grades, K through three, are the most important place to have small class sizes.”
Merkley was referring to the Smaller Class Sizes for Students and Educators Act of 2019, which he introduced in February, which aims to provide grants to eligible local educational agencies to help public schools reduce class sizes in the early elementary grades.
In addition to the town hall, Merkley took the stage Friday night at Oregon Coast Community College’s commencement ceremony and served as the commencement speaker for the class of 2019.