Today was historic, at least I hope it was. If it was not, then next time we will get 50,000 educators, parents and administrators to rally at the capital. Let’s hope they listened to us.
As I write this, Oklahoma is 48th in the nation in average pupil funding, 49th in teacher pay. We are a state where education professionals have not seen a raise in 7 years, yet our student population has grown by 35,000 students in the last five. Our state legislature, however, continues to enact unfunded reforms and mandates, expecting us to take from our local coffers to foot the bill. Class sizes continue to rise, and teachers are leaving the state in droves. Tulsa Public Schools has 37 classrooms where substitutes have been hired because there are not any teachers to do the job.
At the same time, our governor (Mary Fallin) continues to push for more and more tax cuts for rich folks, in a state where oil and natural gas are a chief export. We now lose $776.9 million in revenue per year. We rank 46th in the nation in the portion of our income that we pay in State and Local taxes. We have eliminated the Estate Tax, expanded property tax exemptions and loopholes for the wealthy, expanded sales tax exemptions, and above all allowed tax breaks for oil and gas production to grow unchecked. They are proposing more tax cuts as I write this, and our state is due to lose $267 million in the next four years if they become law.
The mandates levied on teachers are such things as 7 state end of instruction tests which force us to teach to a test rather than teach valuable critical thinking skills. Students must pass 4 out of the 7 in order to graduate from high school. We should use California as blue print for this kind of thing. The sunshine state had the same thing years ago, but opted for a basic skills test (one test) that students may take beginning with their sophomore year and they may take it multiple times. We also have a 3rd grade reading test that (if failed) will force schools to hold students back a year. My youngest daughter is in danger of this unfair mandate that should be left up to the local school districts to enforce. The fact is, our students are tested, retested and then tested again until the state department is sure that we are doing our jobs. I would think that a four year degree would be enough for them.
As you can see, we are quite fed up.
Well over 30,000 teachers, parents, students and administrators attended the rally today on the Oklahoma capital steps. Many legislators came out to support us on both sides of the aisle. Our shouts and chants could be heard inside the walls of the capital, I am sure, and afterward we all marched into the building to find our representatives. Mine was conveniently unavailable. The rally was peaceful, but there was a deep thrumming in the mixture that was on the verge of a growl. We are sick and tired of legislatures politicizing the education of the young. Common Core, even though it is based on Arisotle’s 4 pillars, something as old as the ancient Greeks, has become a subject of Republican vitriol, 90% of it propagandized until higher rigor is now being abandoned by our government. (By the way, our government will simply use Common Core, but title it something else).
I know I’m all over the place on this post, but the issues being debated about education in this state (as I know they are in other states) is something of a hornet’s nest, and there are so many things wrong with public education that there really is not any way to fix the problem forever. Money may not solve the issue, but very little money causes much more problems than it solves.
I came away from the rally today with a good feeling that hopefully our government will listen to the masses. If they do not, then we can also turn out at the ballot box in numbers far greater than can mass at the capital steps.