Friday, March 30, 2018

OK: Fed Up

Other states may be more hostile to the idea of public education (looking at you, Florida), but when it comes to the Cheap Bastards approach to school management, it's hard to beat Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has occasionally take small steps away from the reformster program. They axed the Common Core (sort of) and actually did away with VAM evaluation for teachers. The former was a feature of Oklahoma's conservative voters (after all, Common Core is totally Obama's plan to turn your children into lesbian socialists who steal your guns), and the latter-- well, in retrospect, it looks like maybe they were just trying to save a buck. Oklahoma's legislature has been mighty creative when it comes to saving a buck; the GOP caucus at one point suggested that all non-English speaking students be turned over to ICE for possible deportation (because it might save them $60 million).

I've been in two teacher strikes, once as a local president. Teachers really don't like to strike, but there comes a point where you're just out of options. Oklahoma's teachers have gone years and years without a raise, and that stagnant wage situation has positioned Oklahoma at the very bottom of the heap when it comes to teacher pay-- a point OK teachers have driven home by sharing their pay stubs. $31,000 -- before taxes-- is not much money to start a life or a family with, and the state legislature has not shown any serious interest in addressing the issue. Instead, they have chopped away at the money spent on schools in general, so that Oklahoma schools are seriously underfunded. You'll be unsurprised to hear that Oklahoma is having trouble filling teaching positions-- last year they issued 1,800 emergency certificates (aka teacher papers for people who aren't actually qualified to be teachers).

Oklahoma teachers face some unusual hurdles. Like several other states (including West Virginia), local school districts don't set the pay scale for their teachers (because competition is bad if it means teachers get paid more, I guess), and the state legislature a few decades back passed a rule saying that taxes can only be raised with a 75% majority.

All of that may explain why local school districts and boards and administrators are actually supporting the statewide strike. The Tulsa superintendent, board president, and PTA chief passed a resolution this week in support of “any steps necessary to improve conditions for our teachers — including a districtwide suspension of classes.”

As is virtually always the case when teachers finally strike, this is not simply about money. It's about respect and the future of education in Oklahoma. You don't recruit teachers with a slogan of "Get paid less than in any nearby state, and work in a school that lacks resources and support for your work." OK is not just bottom of the barrel for teacher pay, but for per-pupil funding as well.

Oklahoma teachers are standing up for the future of public education in Oklahoma.

The legislature is feeling the heat. They managed to raise taxes for the first time in twenty-eight years, despite the worries among legislators that the proposed taxes (including gas, cigarettes, and hotel taxes) would hurt the state's businesses. I guess they were not so worried about what the effect would be of not being able to maintain a functioning public education (new proposed motto-- "Oklahoma- uneducated and we like it that way"?).

But the strike is still on.

Teachers asked for a $10K raise over three years. They got a one-time raise of $6,100. They asked for raises for support staff. They got nothing. They asked for the replacement of millions of dollars lost from school funding. They got nothing.

Teachers strike when they are out of options. Teachers strike when they are facing people who aren't negotiating in good faith. Teachers strike when they believe the future of their schools are in danger. Oklahoma teachers have almost nothing to lose-- they could find better conditions under which to pursue their career in literally any other state. This has to be one of the most frustrating places to be in a teacher strike-- where you are telling the People In Charge "You are killing our schools, killing our communities, killing the future that depends on an educated citizenry. How do you not get that?"

So Monday, spare a thought and a few words of support for Oklahoma teachers, who are walking out, making their own lives more complicated and bothersome than they may want to, because their legislature is determined to strangle education in the Sooner State. Hang in there, Oklahoma teachers. Don't let the cheap bastards grind you down.

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