Oklahoma: It’s Not Me, It’s You!

I started writing yesterday, and it turned into a 1000 word rant about how much I hate to hear people justify low teacher pay with the false perception that “teachers only work 9 months out of the year.”  Twice now, I stepped away from that post.  Most of the people who read my blog know that teachers work well beyond their 7.5 hourfile-feb-27-7-53-56-pm day and 180 day contract year.  They don’t even have to drive by a school to see cars in the parking lot after 5pm to know that the teaching contract doesn’t adequately represent what the job really entails.  And as for other people, the ones who buy the 9 month myth, well…I can’t imagine anything I write is going to change their minds.

 

I’ve been saying for a few years now that it’s a tough time to be a teacher.  As if the unending and unfunded mandates from the higher ups or the constant “reform” strategies from non-educators weren’t enough, this morning a friend posted an article reminding us that Oklahoma will soon rank dead last in teacher pay.  That’s 51st.  Behind South Dakota and Mississippi, who found a way to fund teacher raises.  There are plenty of plans for teacher pay raises in the mix at the capitol right now.  But they all share one commonality:  none of them have a plan for funding.  And the constant struggle against what seems like an incessant war against public education is affecting my mood.

 

Listen, Oklahoma:  it’s not me, its you!

 

I love my job.  It’s never boring.  Every day presents new challenges and new chances to be important in the life of a child.  I have the unique opportunity, no…obligation…to inspire kids for several years.  During the school year, some of them spend more time with me than with their families.  Teenagers have the power to both amaze and annoy me.  It’s a paradox that makes my days interesting, and my time in the classroom never, ever dull.

 

So why am I struggling to enjoy my days in the classroom as I used to?

 

Oklahoma:  it’s not me, it’s you!

 

All my life, I’ve ever only wanted to be a teacher.  Throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school, this was my answer to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  In the first semester of college, I declared my major:  music education.  I never wavered in that calling.  Even now, I find great fulfillment in recruiting and encouraging talented new people to my profession.  I tell them that teaching is the most rewarding and simultaneously frustrating work there is.

 

So why would I suddenly question a lifelong calling to such an important profession?

 

Oklahoma:  it’s not me, it’s you!

 

You have used my dedication, my passion, my integrity against me.  You have cited my fierce calling to a noble profession as justification for paying me poorly.  You have called me greedy for seeking financial security for my family.  Nobody expects to become a millionaire in the education field (unless you’re a billionaire heiress who wants to redirect education funds to poor-performing charter schools for profit).  But it’s unfair to deny college-educated professionals a wage that allows us to feed and clothe our own kids, put a roof over their heads, and maybe even send them to college someday.

 

I don’t want to leave my profession or the state I’ve called home for all of the nearly 35 years I’ve been alive.  But something’s gotta give.  And if it does…Oklahoma, it’s not me.  It’s you.

The Voucher Wolves Are Circling


With plenty of support in powerful, national positions, the voucher wolves are circling their prey:  public schools.

 

HR610 was introduced last month by Iowa Republican Congressman, Steve King.  Essentially, it abolishes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which has guided and governed federal education policy since 1965.  It cuts the Department of Education off at the knees, drastically limiting their power and oversight.  It also directs the ED (I think they mean the Federal Education Department, NOT a certain male medical condition by the same name) to grant funding ONLY to states who offer voucher programs, which would allow parents to use taxpayer funds for private schools or homeschools.

 

Also, the bill lifts nutritional requirements that made fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk products more available to students.  Basically, it says we can go back to serving crap lunches again.  But that’s fodder for another blog post entirely, I think.

 

I won’t say I’ve read the bill entirely because it can’t be good for my blood pressure.  But I’m sure it leaves room for lots of questions like:

 

  1. Who will monitor the dispense and use of these funds to be certain they are used for educational purposes?
  2. What defines educational purposes? Does a family trip to Europe qualify?
  3. Will private schools accepting taxpayer money in the form of a voucher be required to accommodate students with special needs, including those on IEP’s and 504 plans?
  4. What happens to the funding if/when students are removed from private schools and sent back to their districted public school?
  5. Will federal funding for other programs, like Title I and school nutrition, be withheld from states who refuse to offer voucher programs?

 

It seems contradictory to basically abolish the Education Department at the federal level in the name of state and local control while simultaneously tying federal funding to a federal mandate.  I’m starting to think the ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth is a general prerequisite for becoming a legislator these days.

 

Why?  Why funnel funding away from public schools instead of seeking to fund programs to help our most vulnerable students?  Everybody with any sense knows that a voucher won’t make private school accessible or even affordable for our most disadvantaged students.  I just can’t buy that this is about rescuing poor kids, specifically because I don’t recall the last time the GOP was truly concerned with the plight of the poor, particularly as it pertained to government funding.  These are the people who begrudge every subsidy program for the poor:  SNAP (food stamps), WIC, Medicaid…

 

So what’s the real motive?  Establish a for-profit school system that lines the pockets of investors with tax-payer funds and simultaneously re-segregates our schools?  President Trump’s Secretary of Education pick, Bet$y DeVo$ certainly supports that theory, as does her confirmation by the Senate despite an unprecedented public outcry to her candidacy.

 

I used to think that was far-fetched conspiracy theory.  I’m not so sure anymore.

 

I don’t even know why I bother writing anymore.  Maybe because I want there to be some kind of warning on record when the sky actually falls.

How the Chamber Killed Teacher Raises

 

The cat is officially out of the bag, friends.  You can now see who gave money and how much they gave to Greater OKC Chamber’s successful effort to rob teachers of a fully-funded $5000 pay raise.  Oklahoma’s teacher pay is now 50th in the nation, and Oklahoma’s teachers are paid at 77% the national average.  To view the entire disclosure, head right over here:  odb-donorsfile-feb-05-2-33-56-pm

 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see Chesapeake and Devon gave $20,000 each toward the endeavor.  Although I can imagine the hurt and anger felt by the few thousand people those companies laid off.  They couldn’t pay their employees, but they had money to help make sure Oklahoma teacher salaries would remain 50th in the nation.  And despite having recently emerged from chapter 11 bankruptcy, Sandridge Energy managed to contribute $10,000 to the cause.

 

You can add Love’s Travel Company to the list of places I won’t be frequenting.  They gave $40,000 to ODB.  I try not to give my business to any entity that so clearly puts profit ahead of people.  I don’t care how “clean” their bathrooms are.

 

 

Other donations came from individuals.  I noticed one name on the list lives across the street from me, and just down the street from the Norman elementary where my daughter attended kindergarten.  I wonder how he can drive by that place and not think about the fact he cost those teachers $5000.

 

Clay Bennett was rumored to have been one of the big proponents of Oklahoma Deserves Better, and gave $20,000 to the coalition.  Bennett’s net worth is around 400 million, thanks in no small part to his NBA success in Oklahoma City with the Thunder.

 

Another individual donor is the head of the charity, “Fields and Futures”, which works to build athletic facilities for some metro schools.  Tim McLaughlin allowed Edmond North students to raise $350,000 for his charity.  A few months later, he donated $10,000 to deny their teachers a raise.  The defeat of 779 will certainly exacerbate the teacher shortage by expediting the exodus of teachers from our state.  Essentially, Mr. McLaughlin repaid the charity of those benevolent students by jeopardizing the quality of their education.  For somebody who works specifically to provide athletic opportunities for disadvantaged kids to donate to a cause that hurt their teachers is an especially low blow.  I guess for him, when it comes to helping underserved urban students break the cycle of poverty, football fields > teachers.

 

 

The Greater OKC Chamber not only spearheaded the effort, they gave more than $200,000 in cash and in-kind donations.  That number doubles to over 400K if you also count donations from FOKC (Forward Oklahoma City), a chamber-led initiative for economic development in the city.  All-in-all, they solicited nearly $900,000 from Oklahoma businesses and citizens, and spent nearly all of it in the last 10 days leading up to the election, primarily on misleading ads like this one:

 

People who bought the slush fund lie, failed to scrutinize the full language of the bill:

“The common school districts shall use eighty-six and one-third percent (86.33%) of the additional funds provided to them under this Article XIII-C to increase teacher salaries as required by Section 4 of this Article, and to otherwise address and prevent teacher and certified instructional staff shortages in the manner most suited to local district circumstances and needs…”  (emphasis is my own)

In other words, the money was for teacher pay, not just teacher raises.  It was stipulated that districts would increase all teacher salaries by at least $5000.  But liberty was given to allow districts to use some of the resulting revenue to address other issues with teacher pay.  It would have allowed some districts to rehire positions they were forced to eliminate in a budget crisis.  It would have allowed them to add teachers to their work force to alleviate large class sizes.  It would have allowed them to offer stipends for hard to fill positions, like STEM and Special Education.  And the language explicitly prohibited any of the money going towards superintendent salaries.

 

I’m willing to wager the people at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce actually knew this.  They just bet on the fact that most Oklahomans didn’t know it, and that most wouldn’t even bother to read the bill at all.  They bet big (over $800,000) and they won big.

 

And I think that’s what bothers me most.  They didn’t officially form their coalition until after October 1st so they could keep their donor lists hidden until their first financial disclosure was due in January.  The ads were misleading at best, and flat-out false at worst.  They waited until the last minute so proponents of the measure wouldn’t have time to do damage control.  It was all very underhanded and calculated.  And it appeared suddenly, and with great precision, dropped a bomb on a measure that was polling at over 60% just a month before the election, which leads me to believe it had been in the works for a long time before the organization was “official”.

And now, the GOKC Chamber says teacher pay is their number one educational priority (as opposed to their top priority in general).file-feb-05-2-47-31-pm

 

My question for the Greater OKC Chamber is simple:

How much money do you intend to spend to lobby on behalf of teachers?

 

At this point, words are meaningless.  Making teacher pay their top educational legislative priority is nothing but lip service as far as I’m concerned.  We’ve been there before.  We’ve heard for years that a raise is in the works, that legislators have filed this bill or that bill, and it never comes to fruition.  The GOKC Chamber proved they were willing to put serious money behind their efforts.  Will they reach out to these donors to solicit donations for their “better plan” implementation?  Do they plan to run an ad campaign to rally the people behind our educators?  Do they plan to spend money championing teacher pay?  Have they hired lobbyists to wine and dine legislators on our behalf?  Are they working with a design firm on yard signs and bumper stickers?  How much advertising time has been purchased with local radio and television stations to promote a “better plan” for teacher pay raises, and for increasing per pupil spending for the 700,000 students in our financially crippled public schools?

They solicited and spent almost a million dollars to deny my family a $5,000 raise, and simultaneously endangered the quality of education for 700,000 school children by contributing to the mass exodus of our teachers.

If I had to guess how much money they throw into a campaign for their “better plan”, my guess is somewhere between $0 and $0.

But by all means, Greater OKC Chamber, make a liar out of me.  Put your money where your mouth is.  I dare you.