In the Name of Love?

I can still see the look of indignation and astonishment spread across a certain state legislator’s face when I told him that I DON’T feel persecuted.  Not at all.  He was surprised to hear me—a middle class, white, Christian in the buckle of the Bible belt—say that in no way do I feel my religious liberties are threatened.  That same state legislator justified his disagreement with me by rattling off a story about an elementary student who wasn’t allowed to sing “God’s not Dead” at some school assembly.

 

I’ve got something to say to my Christian brothers and sisters, and some of you aren’t going to like it.  Friends, if your definition of “persecution” is a seven-year-old girl being unable to sing a less-than-adequate Christian pop song, then you can probably stop reading this post now because you and I will likely never be on the same page.  And I’ll say the same about being unable to force students to recite the Lord’s prayer, or listen to prayer or scripture over the school-wide intercom.

 

Brothers and Sisters, if you think God is deterred from being present in our lives because you don’t say a prayer from the press box at a football game, then you have a much narrower view of God than I do.  If you are deterred from carrying out our calling as followers of Jesus to LOVE and care for our neighbors (all of them) because you can’t hold an in-class Bible study, then you have a completely different idea of this calling than I do.

 

My God is powerful, but sometimes in subtle ways, at times undetectable by us.  My God can speak through my actions:  patience, kindness, passion, integrity, thoughtfulness, sympathy, radical hospitality, and joy.  My God doesn’t need me to thump my Bible to prove God is here.  To honor God we should care for others, and believe me, if you do that, God can speak for God’s self.

 

I bring this up because I’m growing weary of hearing state leaders justify useless, time-wasting, or even often unconstitutional legislation with the rhetoric they are somehow carrying out God’s will.  Call me crazy, but in a world where millions still live without clean water, in a country where half of those living in poverty are children, and in a state where 60% of kids need school for adequate nutrition, I don’t believe erecting the 10 Commandments on our capitol lawn is atop Jesus’s to-do list.  If we want to clang our cymbals or drum our noisy gong about how our steps are guided by our belief in Jesus, we better make sure that kind of declaration is true of our motives all the time.  Stop using Christian rhetoric when it suits our political ambition (banning abortions) and abandoning it when it doesn’t (eliminating programs that help poor mothers and children).  Stop using people’s willingness to answer God’s call to serve others as an adequate excuse to pay them poorly.

 

I’m working on the log in my own eye.  Have you even noticed the one in yours?

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

With spring break on the horizon, hunting season is upon us.  Specifically I mean job hunting for teachers.  Many districts have already begun enrollment for next year, and they’re gathering letters of intent from tenured teachers.  They’re also determining exactly how many teachers they need and how many they can afford to hire for the following year.  Job postings are going up.

In fact, job postings are going up in districts here and in surrounding states.

With every passing day in this legislative session, the odds of passing a plan to raise teacher pay get slimmer.  A few options have made it out of committee, but they all share one common flaw:  they don’t have revenue plans.  In other words, they don’t have a way to fund these plans.  It doesn’t take a rocket brain scientist to figure out what happens if you tell districts to pay teachers more without providing more revenue:  lay offs.  A teacher pay raise without a funding source is just another unfunded mandate from our legislature.  I’m not surprised at all.  I was only ever surprised that people voted down a fully-funded teacher pay plan because they thought our legislators would take care of the problem.

I said in November my family would likely look at moving out of Oklahoma next year, and that I would seek employment in a state that values education and educators more than Oklahoma does.  I don’t want to leave.  I like my school.  I love my students.  The parents have stepped up to invest in the program I’m directing and their children deserve a good teacher.  I like my neighborhood, and I love the life we live in Norman.

But I also don’t think it’s healthy to continue letting Oklahoma off the hook for the way it treats its educators and, quite frankly, other employees who provide necessary social services.  If we as teachers keep going above and beyond the call of duty despite being so poorly treated and compensated, then we are just enabling our abusers.  They will continue to do what they’ve always done, because they continue to get what they’ve always gotten:  educators willing to martyr themselves to the profession “for the sake of the children.”

There’s got to be a tipping point.  A point at which the well is dry, and we simply say, “no more!”  It’s easy for some people to vilify teachers for wanting our state to do the right thing.  Other states have found a way, and that’s one of the reasons we find ourselves 51st in teacher pay in the nation at the end of this year.  Some legislators continue to paint educators as greedy union thugs.

What’s so greedy about a college-educated professional wanting a salary that doesn’t qualify them for government subsidies?  What’s so greedy about wanting certified professionals in every classroom?  What’s so greedy about wanting our districts to attract the best and the brightest educators to fill vacancies, instead of begging anybody with a heartbeat to take a teaching position?

I don’t want to leave.  But the fact we are a state that pays its legislators a salary that is higher than that of an educator with a master’s degree and 10 years experience is absolutely heart-breaking.

And it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.

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.

Better Find Someone to Blame

Lately, I’ve heard some complaints from our legislators that they don’t like the tone we’re using when questioning their policies and motives.

 

The most recent occurred in the comments of a Facebook post on Senator Rob Standridge’s page.  Standridge made so many comments that disturbed and upset me, I’m not even sure what to address first.  You might want to check it out for yourself.

file-jan-19-8-03-11-pm

This query, among many others, elicited no response from the Senator.

 

Senator Standridge wants to perform an audit on every school district in Oklahoma.  I can’t imagine why he wants to pay money for information that all districts provide already.  I can only assume it’s because he believes he can solve our budget issues when he discovers how wasteful we educators are with our ever-shrinking budget.

 

The conversation took a few turns as citizens posed several questions of the Senator, most of which went unanswered.  In fact, to look at the comments, you would think the Senator only wished to validate the statements of those who agree with him, while painting those skeptical of his plans as “Republican bashers” (although Standridge himself brought up partisan politics more than the rest of the commenters combined).  Two people, myself included, who used the word “Republican” in a post, began by stating we are (or at least were) Republicans, and asking for clarification as to why our party has strayed so far from responsible fiscal policy.

file-jan-19-7-56-39-pm

Both those statements are true.  We are 50th in teacher salary, and I CAN make 20K more in any one of a number of TX districts.  I’ve checked.

 

 

 

Several commenters asked the Senator to state his position in favor of or against the low production taxes, particularly for oil and gas industries, that have essentially cost us hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue.  Senator Standridge did not address those questions or concerns.  Not even once.  He did continue to scold his constituents for not offering solutions, even though more than one person suggested capitalizing on our natural resources and taxing oil and gas at the going regional rate.

 

file-jan-19-7-58-44-pm

Senator Standridge wishes more Oklahomans thought medicaid recipients are losers.  A vast majority of medicaid recipient are children.

He did take the time to validate and applaud a citizen who called Oklahomans on Soonercare, “losers”.  Which was surprising, considering his position that the care and education of our children is a “moral imperative”, and 2/3 of Soonercare recipients are children.  He implies educating our children is a “moral imperative”, therefore teachers should require no more than the satisfaction of fulfilling that obligation.  I guess that’s where the “moral imperative” ends, because those slacker children are bleeding us dry with their healthcare.

 

 

Standridge goes on to scold teachers for their passion, and for asking, in most instances, well-articulated questions.  He then makes a few passive aggressive comments questioning whether we are fit to work with children.  It seems the Senator confused “vitriol” with “dissent”, and those who openly challenge him are no longer qualified to educate our youth.file-jan-19-8-01-39-pm

 

Here’s the thing:

 

I for one (and I think I can safely say I speak for a lot of other people here) am sick and tired of excuses.  I’m fed up with the blame game.  Our legislators can’t understand why we get so upset when they try to “help” educators by accusing us of wasteful spending, taking our flexible benefit allowance, or even robbing our retirement.  Can’t you see we’re trying to give you that raise?! This is what you said you wanted, you ungrateful, lazy leeches!

 

Please.  It seems some legislators want to “help”, but only on their own terms and without input from educators.  And even if they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul (taking our FBA in exchange for a raise), we should thank our lucky stars and throw them a tickertape parade.

 

Stop expecting me to thank you for kicking me in the shins because it could have been a punch in the gut.

 

Nobody is willing to step up and admit their irresponsible fiscal policy of recent years is to blame for our budget failure, and we need to get serious about how to fix it.  They’re still convinced we can budget our way out of this hole, and after 8 years of “fat-trimming”, we simply can’t anymore.

 

But in the meantime, don’t engage with those in power who have already invented their own truth.  It doesn’t matter how many facts you give them, how many charts you show them, or how much anecdotal evidence you offer.  Your questions will go unanswered, and instead you will be scolded for daring to challenge the misguided fallacies upon which some legislators justify their harmful fiscal policy.

Once More into the Fray

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?