Our Legislative Priorities, recommended by the Government Relations Committee and approved by the Board of Directors in September 2022, focused on three important ways to improve the lives of Oregon education workers: championing workers’ basic rights, supporting special education staff and fully funding our schools and education programs. Together, OSEA members delivered a strong portfolio of bills that will improve our working conditions, increase quality educational experiences, and boost the quality of life for professional classified staff.
Workers' Basic Rights
For too long, classified school employees have been denied access to unemployment benefits when we are laid off, unless we can prove we have no “reasonable assurance” of returning to work after a school break. This creates an unequal, two-tiered system which blocks some of the lowest-paid public workers in the state from an essential financial safety net — available to every other type of public worker. But no longer.
Hundreds of OSEA members have spoken up about this issue for decades. Lawmakers were finally pushed to do the right thing and reform the unemployment system to provide equal access to classified. When SB 489 goes into effect in January 2024, all K-12 classified will be able to access benefits based on the same criteria as any other type of worker, giving thousands of members and our families peace of mind each summer.
Education workers across the state are overstressed and under-compensated. Poor job quality, in the form of low pay, abbreviated shifts and lack of job security, has made Oregon’s current school staffing crisis worse — districts are struggling to recruit and retain quality staff for jobs that pay less and offer less security than the local fast food restaurant. OSEA members took action to back a “workforce omnibus” bill designed to improve working conditions and quality of life for school employees. SB 283 covers many issues we have fought for years to win, including:
- Job security through just cause, meaning staff in K-12 school districts and education service districts (ESDs) cannot be unfairly disciplined or terminated
- An ongoing work group to create a minimum wage floor for school employees across Oregon
The bill includes additional measures to support special education staff, explained in the next section.
Better working conditions, job security, hours and pay will improve the quality of life for OSEA members. Over the long term, it will also make jobs like ours more desirable, ease the workforce shortage and ultimately improve the education of all Oregon students.
Classified staff are on the front lines of education every day. We are the first people students see in the morning and the ones who get them safely home at the end of the day — and we are the ones ensuring a safe and welcoming learning environment all day long. We have important insights into the needs of our schools, students and educators.
For the first time in history, classified staff will be represented on the four boards and commissions that shape education policy in Oregon. We will join the teachers, administrators, parents and community members currently represented on these boards. Finally, our voices will be included.
Oregon schools couldn’t open their doors without classified. In classrooms, buses, offices, libraries, cafeterias and playgrounds, we keep students safe and help them learn. Now, the Legislature has created a law that names the first full week in March “Classified School Employees Week.” We no longer need a special proclamation from the governor each year. This week-long celebration of classified professionals provides much-needed recognition for the hardest working staff in our schools. It also raises awareness in our communities about who we are, what we do and why we are essential for quality education.
Better Support for Special Education Staff
SB 283 is already discussed in the previous section, but it is important to highlight that the bill also includes crucial provisions to protect and support classified staff working with special education students:
- A minimum five-hour workday for classified staff who work with special education students
- $5 million in funding for de-escalation and other training for classified staff
OSEA members have been fighting for this training for years, knowing it is essential to keeping staff and students safe when working with students with the highest needs.
As the staff who often work most closely with students with special needs, classified must know about their students’ needs and accommodations. Now, all classified staff assigned to work with a special education student will have access to the relevant information they need in the student’s individualized education plan (IEP) and/or 504 plan. Classified staff will be included on IEP teams for their students, invited to IEP meetings and consulted on changes to the student’s IEP. Districts must also provide employer-paid training for all staff assigned to work with special education students.
SB 756 will improve the quality of education for students with special needs by helping every staff person they work with know what the student needs and how best to support them. It also protects staff by providing training and information about working with high needs students. Importantly, it applies not only to special education assistants but all classified staff assigned to work with these students — including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and office staff.
This bill expands the definition of child abuse to include certain types of restraints and seclusion. Thanks to advocacy from OSEA, the bill was amended to make it clear that school districts, not staff, will be held liable for instances of abuse if appropriate training has not been provided to the staff involved. We also made sure it protects workers who have a reasonable expectation of being fired if they do not follow a supervisor’s direction to use restraint or seclusion.
Fully Funding Oregon's Future
Advocacy from hundreds of OSEA members through 2023 convinced lawmakers that fully funding education is a priority for school employees, our state and its future. Lawmakers heard us and raised the state’s K-12 budget from $9.5 billion to a record-breaking $10.2 billion for the 2023-25 biennium. This $700 million increase will make it harder for school districts to claim budget shortfalls during future bargaining sessions. It is an investment in Oregon students and the staff who support them.
The state will offer school districts grants for culturally appropriate literacy curricula. Grants may fund both a program’s curriculum and staffing. Not only did this bill pass, but advocacy from OSEA members prevented grants from being funded with money already budgeted for K-12 programs — because students of all ages deserve quality education.
OSEA advocates for public education at all levels where our members provide the support Oregon students need to succeed, from pre-k through community college. All levels of public education matter, for our members’ jobs, those looking to improve our opportunities for the future and our entire state. OSEA helped secure the most funding ever received by community colleges across the state.
Three out of four Oregon schools will be able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, thanks to landmark changes in a federal nutrition program. HB 5014 invests an additional $17 million to help as many as 200 additional schools improve student wellbeing through this program in the 2024-25 school year.
As introduced, HB 3014 would have enabled school districts to use money from the Oregon Transportation Grant Fund (OTGF) to pay for student “alternative transportation,” including transit bus vouchers and group bike rides or walks to and from school. OSEA members pushed back, knowing that this bill had the potential to cut bus driver jobs.
Thanks to our advocacy, the bill was amended to preserve funding for school buses, the safest way to transport students to and from school. It also protects our bargaining units: the final form of this bill requires districts to prove a good faith effort (consistent with our contracts) to recruit, hire, train and pay existing bus driver positions before the district can apply for reimbursement for alternative transportation. The final bill also requires all new alternate transportation positions be directly employed by the school district to safeguard from contracting-out by limiting the use of school district funds.