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In Choosing to Strike, Oklahoma Teachers Want More Than a Badly-Needed Salary Boost. They Want Funding for Decent Classrooms.

April 5, 2018

Oklahoma teachers are on strike this week.

The teachers chose to strike despite Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s signing a bill into law on Thursday, March 29, 2018, in an effort to circumvent the strike. That bill included a $6,100 pay raise for teachers. However, teachers believed it wasn’t enough. From OEA President Alicia Priest, as noted in The Hill:

“This package doesn’t overcome a shortfall caused by four-day weeks, overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need. It’s not enough,” she continued. “We must continue to push for more annual funding for our schools to reduce class size and restore more of the 28 percent of funds they cut from education over the last decade.”

On January 30, 2018, The Economist published an insightful article on the fiscal problems facing Oklahoma, a state with leadership that has decided to give away its revenue to oil corporations. An excerpt:

FORTY miles from Tulsa, sometimes along unpaved roads, sits Wagoner High School, with its 650 pupils, championship-calibre football team and show barn—a seemingly ordinary small-town school. But unlike most high schools, Wagoner is closed on Mondays. The reason, a severe reduction in state funds, has pushed 90 other school districts in Oklahoma to do the same. Teacher pay is the third-lowest in the country and has triggered a statewide shortage, as teachers flee to neighbouring states like Arkansas and Texas or to private schools. “Most of our teachers work second jobs,” says Darlene Adair, Wagoner’s principal. “A lot of them work at Walmart on nights and weekends, or in local restaurants.” Ms Adair hopes that Walmart does not offer her teachers a full-time job, which would be a pay rise for many.

The roots of the fiasco are not hard to determine. As in Oklahoma’s northern neighbour, Kansas, deep tax cuts have wrecked the state’s finances. During the shale boom, lawmakers gave a sweetheart deal to its oilmen, costing $470m in a single year, by slashing the gross production tax on horizontal drilling from 7% to 1%. … The crash in global oil prices in 2014 did not help state coffers either. Oklahoma has also cut income taxes, first under Democrats desperate to maintain control over a state that was trending Republican, and then under Republicans, who swept to power anyway. Mary Fallin, the Republican governor, came to office pledging to eliminate the income tax altogether. Since 2008 general state funds for K-12 education in Oklahoma have been slashed by 28.2%—the biggest cut in the country. Property taxes, which might have made up the difference, are constitutionally limited. …

No fact embarrasses Oklahomans more, or repels prospective businesses more, than the number of cash-strapped districts that have gone to four-day weeks. …

The real reason why so many school districts are resorting to a tighter calendar is that it is the only true perk they can offer to poorly paid teachers, whose salaries start at $31,600 and who have not received a rise for ten years. The exodus to Texas and Arkansas, which included Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, continues unabated. A 20-minute drive across the border often results in a $10,000 increase. Dallas’s school district has unashamedly set up booths in Oklahoma City to poach what talent remains.

Then comes the health insurance issue:

To make matters worse, the expensive health insurance offered to teachers eats into already meagre pay. Under the cheapest plan on offer, monthly premiums are $400 for a single person. The cost of adding a spouse is another $470 per month; a child is $208. In Catoosa, a school district not far from Tulsa, an elementary-school secretary tells of an aide with four children whose premiums were so large that she paid the district $200 a month to work there.

From Captain Obvious: Foregoing revenue in order to favor corporate America results in crippled infrastructure. There’s more:

Other state agencies are broke, too. Highway patrolmen are told not to fill their petrol tanks to save money. Those caught drunk-driving are able to keep their licences because there are no bureaucrats to revoke them. Prisons are dangerously overcrowded, to the point that the state’s director of corrections publicly says that “something is going to pop”. But unlike Kansas, whose Republican legislature eventually rebelled and reversed the tax cuts over the governor’s veto, Oklahoma will find its troubling experiment much more difficult to undo. Because of a referendum passed in 1992, any bill that seeks to raise taxes must be approved by three-quarters of the legislature.

As for the teachers: The January 2018 Economist also mentions that Fallin hoped to offer teachers a $5,000 raise. Surprisingly, the Oklahoma legislature passed

bill offering more: $6,100. A logical question: Why did teachers opt to strike anyway?

Answer: Funding obligations for students have not been met. Yes, Oklahoma teachers desperately need the money. But the payraise does not confront the underfunded stresses of the Oklahoma public school classroom, as the April 02, 2018, issue of TIME reports:

Last week, the Oklahoma Legislature signed off on a $6,100 raise for the state’s public school teachers. On Monday, they went on strike. …

“We’re going to say that our legislature started the process and they have a moral obligation to invest in our children and our children’s future,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association teachers union, told the AP. “That obligation has not been met yet. Funding for our students is an issue in every schoolhouse in the state of Oklahoma.”

Allow me to (almost) close this post with some visuals, both from strike participants as well as pics of Oklahoma classrooms, many of which are captured in this CNN article.

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[Teacher Sarah Jane] Scarberry also shared images of her classroom’s broken desks and chairs, and said they weren’t too bad compared to other classrooms.

“As for the desks, I’m more fortunate than most I guess. My husband works with me at Heavener and works in maintenance. He usually can use salvageable parts from discarded desks to keep me going,” she told CNN.

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Consider the above photos as you also consider the following:

  • For proceeding with the strike, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has accused teachers of behaving like a “teenager wanting a better car.”
  • In response to a legislator’s FB post, one Oklahoma teacher has (prematurely) announced her plans to run for office:
    • “My name is Cyndi Ralston. For the last thirty years, it has been my honor to teach the children of Northeast Oklahoma, first with Broken Arrow Public Schools and now with Haskell Public Schools. I am now running as a Democrat to represent the people of District 12 in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.

      I had not planned to make this announcement public until after I had filed for office, but the events of the day have moved me to do so now. As an educator, my campaign will, of course, be focused on issues regarding our schools, including teacher and staff pay, classroom funding, and creating opportunities for our children. I will also focus on issues affecting my district including healthcare and criminal justice reform.

      At the core of why I am running, though, is respect. As I’m sure many of you know, the current Representative for District 12, Kevin McDugle, released a video this morning in which he disrespected and denigrated teachers and administrators who have come to the capitol to protest the legislature’s wholly inadequate support for education. To be honest, I never imagined before the last few months that I would run for office. I have been politically active my entire adult life, but I was happy to serve my community by teaching and caring for my students. It would still be easy for me to bury my head in the sand and ignore what is happening at 23rd and Lincoln. But I cannot do that. For years, my profession has been under siege by our legislature. Budget cut after budget cut have forced us to do ever more with ever less, and it cannot continue on this path. When my colleagues and I have visited our Republican representatives and senators, we have been brushed off, if not outright lied to. Republican members of the legislature have made it crystal clear that they do not believe they work for us, that our concerns do not matter. That disrespect was given a name and a face this morning when Representative McDugle posted his video. I cannot, I will not stand idly by any longer. If Kevin McDugle won’t fight for teachers and students, then I will. If Kevin McDugle won’t back parents over oil companies, I will. If Kevin McDugle won’t treat his constituents with respect and dignity, I will.

      It’s time for a change in Oklahoma, and I will be that change. Please follow this page for further information and announcements as my campaign gets up to speed. I will soon have my website, online donation system, and campaign literature up and ready to go. In the meantime, please send me a message here! I look forward to getting out and meeting my neighbors in District 12 and working to be a Representative the district can be proud of!”

My best to Ralston and all Oklahoma teachers in their fight for decent conditions for Oklahoma faculty and students.

Note: Even as I write, it seems that Oklahoma lawmakers are trying pass more bills securing more revenue for schools. 

IMG_1021  Cyndi Ralston

___________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

6 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Go Cyndi… The pix of textbooks show that Oklahoma wants to be ignorant and a third world state. The legislature must be removed along with the governor.

  2. Many may miss the most dangerous denigration of the governor comparing teachers to “teenagers wanting a better car.” TEENAGERS. Teachers who are on average 40-45 years old with 15-25 years of experience being treated, these days, as children. Over and over and over…

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