Don’t Make Me Do This…. Thoughts on Oklahoma SQ779
There are those days that you get to the end of your parenting rope. One more argument about who got the bigger slice of pizza or one more sibling comment like “Mom, he’s looking at me!” and you just want to lock yourself in the bathroom. You parents know what I mean – the bickering in the upstairs bedroom that makes you stand at the bottom of the stairs and yell, “Don’t make me come up there!” That’s how I feel about the Oklahoma Legislature. Because they’ve abdicated their democratic responsibility to adequately fund public education, I’m being forced to vote for a 1 percent sales tax (Oklahoma SQ779). You made me do it, Legislature.
What The Money Can – and Can’t – Do
That money will provide all Oklahoma teachers with a much-needed and long overdue raise, and I hope will keep them in the state or from quitting teaching. It might even be enough to let them quit their part-time jobs. At the grocery store where I shop, the cashier and the sacker were discussing their math lesson plans as they checked me out. True story.
The money will also allow districts to use funds to improve graduation rates and support early learning for children in poverty. And for you parents who have seen fees and tuition go up at your child’s college or university, some of the money will be used to bring you some relief. And the Legislature can’t use sleight of hand to shift funds. The tax money will NOT replace state money already allocated for education.
Who knows? Maybe some of those districts that have cut their weeks to four days will be able to have school five days a week.
A great amount of harm has already been done to public education, and it will be difficult to recover. The Legislature has no will to support school funding. They’ve made teachers out to be the bad guys and then done their best to set them up for failure by cutting their pay, cutting off funding for resources and textbooks, and giving them unmanageable class sizes.
All of which forces me to take action at the voting booth next week. And while I’m there, I’ll definitely take a look at which legislators actually support the idea of our forefathers when it comes to public education in a democratic society. Our current policy makers favor turning over their government obligation (and our tax dollars) to others. “School choice” is not a choice if all children don’t have access to it.
For example, School Savings Accounts (vouchers) will surely come up again next year as a “school choice” option. It’s not a choice unless the school I’m choosing must take my child just like a public school. It’s not a choice if I have to pay more for it and it’s not free like my public school. It’s not a choice if there’s no transportation like my public school.
Also, public schools in a democratic society have transparent pay scales that I can see; they have school boards that I can vote for; they must follow laws that all public schools follow. “Choice” may sound good, but do you know what your tax dollars are paying for? There’s no guarantee.
And, when a politician says, “We need to do something about these terrible public schools by giving parents a choice.” You can respond, “Yes, I want that choice to be that all Oklahoma public schools are funded and supported so that my children and all Oklahoma children will be in the best public schools in the United States. Do something. Don’t hand over my children’s education to a voucher, or a private entity or a corporation.”
And, while we’re fortunate in Tulsa to have very generous foundations which donate to our schools, we can’t depend on them for funding. We also can’t depend on parents and PTAs to pay teachers’ salaries. Out of desperation, some schools have done this, but it only deflected the problem for a year. And what about the schools that can’t afford to pay teacher salaries? It only makes income disparity worse. Nothing can replace solid, steady funding for public education, and that must come from the state.
Sadly, Oklahoma SQ779 won’t solve the deficit problem we now face in Oklahoma. It will certainly help, but there promises be a bigger budget deficit next year, so education, mental health, prisons and other state funding will be even less. The impact of strangling these budgets exponentially compounds the hurt. All of these services are tied together — one impacts the other. Children are being held back from opportunities for no other reason than the Legislature lacks the will to tackle the real issues that will improve the lives of all Oklahomans. It should not be a partisan issue.
The good news is that we get to vote next week.