Swaths of red shirts swirled in front of the Center Building at Lane Community College, chatter energizing the sunny atmosphere. Laptops lined the edge of a long table; students took their turns typing on them. The LCC student body, the faculty and staff unions and administration came together to raise attention around state funding of community colleges and to send emails to the Oregon Legislature.

LCC students use laptops set up by the Lane Community College Education Association to send letters to legislators in Salem (Marek Belka // The Torch)

This rally was one of many rallies across the state. At K-12 schools, enough teachers walked out on Wednesday that 25 school districts had to close 600 schools. They are frustrated with overcrowded classrooms and a shortage of support staff including nurses, academic and mental health counselors.

The graduation rates of Oregon high schools are among the lowest in the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Oregon ranks 48 in the nation. Most educators, and students alike, would attribute these outcomes to a lack of funding.

“Community college success and retention rates are also below the national average. You have a right to a well-funded quality education–I wonder if there isn’t some sort of cause and effect to that, right?” LCC Vice President of Student Affairs Paul Jarrell said. “If we are going to reverse that we do need our legislature to realize that you are an investment. You are the way out of this and we can do better and we must do better.”

Paul Jarrell, Vice President of Student Affairs, delivers a speech during the May 8 walkout at Lane Community College.

As of May 8,  the state has allocated $590 million to Oregon community colleges. However, according to the Oregon Community College Association, community colleges need $647 million just to maintain current service levels. Moreover, community colleges are requesting an additional $70 million for student services, as well as $70 million for an expansion of career technical education.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia attended rallies in Portland and Salem Wednesday. She said in a note read by Adrienne Mitchell: “Community colleges fulfill a critical role in the education continuum, with social justice at the core of our mission. Community colleges are fundamental to a healthy democracy in the U.S., providing access and a pathway out of poverty for many students.”

ASLCC President Nick Keough speaks to a crowd of students, faculty, staff and administrators during the Oregon-wide walkout on May 8. (Marek Belka // The Torch)

According to a 2014 report from the Oregon Education Investment Board, “the cost to the state is approximately $833,333 per child growing up in poverty. These costs include estimates related to future foregone earnings, incarceration costs, and healthcare costs.”

When those students’ families move out of poverty, the report claims, the return to the state (in terms of tax revenue and decreased social service costs), would be similar, saving approximately $833,333 per child.

Members of the LCCEA and LCCEF hand out red t-shirts to people participating in the May 8 walkout. The “Red for Ed” movement has lobbied politicians in Salem for increased funding for K-12 schools and higher education throughout this year’s legislative session.

Graduates show a return investment to the state in terms of tax revenue and lower social services costs. At the high school level, students that do not graduate cost society, taxpayers “over $292,000 in lower tax revenues, higher cash and in-kind transfer costs, and imposed incarceration costs” relative to a high school graduate that contributes $287,384 over the course of his or her lifetime.

A pupil who finishes a two-year degree or certification program is estimated to contribute $461,661 into the community. Those with a bachelor’s degree can be expected to generate $793,079 in tax revenue for society over the course of their lifetime.

Many members of the LCC student body face housing and food insecurities — “At the same time the majority of community college faculty in Oregon are part-time with little if any job security, and salaries that sometimes qualify them for government assistance,” Garcia said. Community colleges have been forced to cut programs and crucial student services, such as counselors, or have outsourced services like the Titan Bookstore and Food Services.