$30: the Price of Budget Failure

2 Tickets to see Star Wars: the Force Awakens

About 18 gallons of gas

2 hours of babysitting for my 3 children

2 Thunder tickets (in Loud City—that’s the top deck)

This sweater from Old Navy

Three 6-packs of my husband’s favorite beer

3 months of Netflix

1 box of diapers

What do all these things have in common, you ask? Why, they all cost around $30!

Why am I making a list of $30 products and services, you ask? Why, haven’t you heard? Big news! The tax cuts our legislators voted in a few years back will begin in 2016! That means my husband and I could see a savings of…you guessed it…$30!!! Woohoo! I’m having a party and you’re all invited! And by party, I mean a case of natural light and a couple bags of doritos. Because I’m pretty sure that’s the best party $30 will buy.

That’s the amount households with income between $36,400 and $58,100 are projected to net from the new tax breaks. That income bracket includes Oklahoma teachers with at least 8 years experience and all the way to doctorate + 25 on the scale. Sorry, newbies. Those of you at step 7 or lower are projected to save a whopping $9. That’ll buy you about 30 packages of Ramen noodles, which is probably what you’re eating if you’re living on a teacher’s salary in Oklahoma.

While the middle-class will see a miniscule reduction in taxes, about 40% of Oklahomans are projected to see no reduction at all. The wealthiest 1% stand to benefit over $2000.

But here’s the real kicker: these tax cuts are projected to amount to nearly 150 million in 2016. And that’s not all! The plan is to continue to slash taxes primarily in the highest tax brackets in 2017 and 2018 for a projected total of around 560million dollars of lost tax revenue for our state. And what really makes my stomach turn is that this comes at a time when Oklahoma is projected to have a budget SHORTFALL of nearly a billion dollars. That’s a billion. With a “B”.

Those of us who live in the real world and have to operate a household budget understand that when you don’t have enough money, you have two options. 1.) Make more money.   2.) Spend less money. It’s clear which option our legislators and governor favor. That means less money for: roads and bridges, healthcare, DHS (and the 11,000 + kids in fostercare), education (highest cuts in the country), prisons (one of the highest incarceration rates in the country), and so on. girl-with-hand-upQuick show of hands—how many of us would rather the state keep our measly tax cut and spend it on the aforementioned endeavors? That’s what I thought.

I know, I know. We’ll all just have to tighten our belts. The problem is, we’ve already seen the steepest cuts to education in the nation—MORE THAN 24% IN THE LAST 7 YEARS. Education isn’t the only place where funding has fallen short. Other agencies that rely on government funding, like the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, have also been cut to the bone. Now we’re being told to brace for yet more cuts to funding. In education, we’ve been tightening our belts for 7 years. Our budget has slimmed down so much we had to cut new notches in that belt. There are no more notches to tighten (but hey, maybe $30 will buy us a new, MUCH SMALLER belt).beltpixxjpg-d4b4ecb7f5a6e651

Republicans like to blame the revenue shortage on the catastrophic drop in the price of oil. The fact is, they were making cuts to education and other state agencies starting 7 years ago when we were in a “boom” economy, and oil was at $100+/barrel. Hence, I’m not buying the idea they’re peddling: these are just hard times, and these tax breaks will miraculously stimulate our economy. They were starving education while there was plenty at the table to go around. Now, they just have more excuses for why we’re only getting the crumbs.

But I suppose in times like these, it’s important to focus on solutions and not stand around pointing fingers.

To hell with that.

I know exactly who’s to blame. The people who voted into law the bills that slashed  taxes using “economic stimulus” as their jedi mind trick. I particularly like what Scott Inman, house minority leader, has to say about it:

“It’s disingenuous to wring one’s hands in despair when the house is on fire, if you helped light the match.”

So, friends, if you’re among us lucky ones here in the middle-class, how do you plan to spend your $30? I know what I’m doing with my $30. I plan to stimulate the economy the best way I know how:   by donating it to the campaign of somebody running against the jokers who got us into this mess.

What NOT to Say to Your Music Teacher

I realize we music educators can occasionally carry a chip on our shoulders about being marginalized in education. You would, too, if you had to endure any comments from colleagues enumerating the differences between electives teachers and “real” teachers. I assure you, I am as real as they come. I’m not a unicorn. I went to college to become a teacher, just like the rest of my colleagues. I earned a degree in education. Actually, I earned two. File Dec 12, 1 46 53 PM

I’ve had the pleasure of working in several districts among numerous colleagues in all subject areas who acknowledged and respected my place in their school and the lives of students. Unfortunately, I’ve run into my fair share of educators, even administrators, who just don’t “get it”. I think in most cases they don’t mean to be condescending or to imply that I matter less than other teachers. They just don’t understand the implications of their comments.

So what follows is a guide. I know most of you “get it”, but for those who think I’m a unicorn: what NOT to say to your music teacher.   (Note: It’s a double transgression if you’ve said any of these things to a music teacher in December…when everybody is suddenly and miraculously a classical music fan and demands a performance at every venue imaginable. Namely the Hallejuah Chorus. Which is actually an Easter anthem. Just sayin’.)

“You’re so lucky. You don’t have to worry about OCCT/EOI/High-Stakes Testing.”

No. Instead, I have to display my students’ progress in a public setting in front of hundreds of people multiple times a year. And you’re only partially correct. I do have to worry about high-stakes testing. The rehearsal time lost to the constant interruptions while my students take multiple exams and I monitor them is a detriment to our preparedness for contests and performances.

“You’re so lucky. You don’t have all this grading.”

No. What I have is hours upon hours of the paperwork it takes to administrate a fine arts programs. Contest registrations. All-State Chorus entries. And don’t even get me started on finances. Fundraiser requests, receipts, deposits, equipment bids, purchase orders, invoices, account reconciliations, etc…for MULTIPLE financial obligations each year. Essentially, my students and their parents have to raise the money to fund our program. Contest fees, audition registrations, honor choir participations, hundreds if not thousands of pieces of music, uniforms, accompanist fees, transportation costs…even the costs of substitute teachers…are just some of the things we must pay for every year. Not to mention (but I will), we do have to worry about grading; specifically, how to quantify something that is subjective and differentiated for multiple students.

“You’re so lucky. You get to choose your own curriculum.”

This is true. We get to choose our own curriculum. For multiple classes, levels of ability, and purposes…several times a year. Do you know how difficult it is to find appropriate and interesting literature for a choir with 2 boys and 11 girls, 9 of whom are freshmen? We can’t teach the same 175 days each year. Our students have us for multiple years. That means, once we burn through an emergency sub plan, we can’t use it again for four years. Once we perform a piece of music, it goes away for several years before we pull it out again, if ever. My sister teaches geometry. She is given a textbook and a curriculum map. At any given time of the year, she knows approximately where she should be and where the other geometry teachers are in the curriculum. No such amenities are afforded to music teachers. Sure, some districts have an adopted music curriculum, but it’s rarely appropriate for all levels at all sites, and there is rarely anybody in place to train and monitor the teachers using it.

“You’re so lucky. Your students choose to be in your class.”

You’re right. We have to recruit and retain our students. Our jobs depend upon it. We have to walk the fine line of holding them accountable to a high standard of excellence, while making the course enjoyable enough they choose to continue enrolling in it. We have to worry from year-to-year what changes administration is going to make to scheduling and requirements that limits student electives. In some places, we even have to worry about students being removed from our courses on a regular basis for remediation. Because apparently, the way to help a kid who hates math get better at math is to make him do more math.

“You’re so lucky. You’re not a core teacher/your class isn’t academic.”

Fine Arts are listed as a core academic subject under No Child Left Behind. Districts are required to hire Highly Qualified teachers to instruct students in music and art. Students are required to obtain at least one Fine Arts credit for graduation, and music can satisfy that requirement. Music is academic. My students are assessed and evaluated. They receive a grade which is included in their GPA and on their transcripts.

 

If you are guilty of any of these transgressions, have no fear. Forgiveness is attainable. Show up to a performance. Include your music teacher at your table in the lounge. Even easier: be kind. Assume that you can’t possibly know the intricacies of each person’s role at your school, but you CAN respect each person’s role. And the person in it. Or the next time we’re selling “World’s Finest Chocolate”, I’ll put you down for a few dozen…boxes.