It’s officially 2017, and I am standing—or writing, rather—on the precipice of a new school semester. I had a wonderful break. A restful break. Christmas break is sort of like “comp time” for teachers—a chance to catch up at home and recharge in exchange for all the extra hours and days we work above and beyond our contracted time. I caught up on sleep, saw family, spent extra time with my children. I did a few projects around the house, played piano for a local church whose usual accompanist was on vacation. And yes, I still managed not to spend any money in OKC. I almost avoided politics altogether.
I say almost because I met with my state senator, Rob Standridge, over the break. Several months ago, I called him out on social media for his failure to respond to five separate emails I sent over the course of 2 separate legislative sessions. A few days later, a response to one of those emails landed in my inbox…from his assistant. After a weeks-long game of e-mail tag, we finally managed to nail down a time when the Senator could meet with me.
Senator Standridge comes off as a nice enough guy. I mean, he did sit at Panera for nearly an hour-and-a-half the day before Christmas Eve discussing education and other political issues with me.
But I walked away from that meeting having confirmed what I suspected: he really doesn’t understand the plight of teachers, and he will not admit the correlation between poverty and academic success. These two shortcomings in combination make me leery that he would ever side with public education.
As for Oklahoma teacher salaries, which are 50th in the nation, Standridge admitted that teachers need a pay raise. He also said he would not author any legislation for teacher pay raises, and that he is skeptical it will even be possible when we’re staring down the barrel of a probably BILLION DOLLAR SHORTFALL.
Three days after our meeting, Standridge touted his support for vouchers and ESAs, a measure that could cost financially-crippled public schools MILLIONS of dollars.
When I brought up the lack of accountability for such measures, including the lack of academic and fiscal oversight for private and for-profit charters to which public schools must submit, he agreed it’s a problem.
Like I said. He seems like a decent guy. I just happen to disagree with virtually his entire stance concerning education.
I’m curious how many teachers left Oklahoma public education at the semester’s end. A friend of mine confided that her sons lost BOTH their 5th grade teachers at the semester. And that was in an upper-middle-class, suburban district. I know we lost at least one at our feeder middle-school in my district. I spent some time over the break updating my resume, and contacting my references to prepare for possible applications out of state.
But for now, I’m still here. And I plan to keep fighting. I intend to keep attempting to educate our legislators, and to call them out when their actions serve an elite few and ignore the vulnerable masses. We’ve been told to brace for several fights: against vouchers, to keep teachers insured, for funding, and to limit the damage of unfair and short-sighted school evaluation systems that don’t paint a complete picture.
Some of you voted down a teacher pay raise in November, and promised us you would nag your legislators to address this and other problems themselves in session. It’s time for you to make good on that promise. We may fail. We probably will. Or at most, delay the inevitable. But 700,000 children, and 40,000 educators in Oklahoma deserve a champion.
Will you be one?