Teachers Probably Banging Their Heads Against a Wall

When teachers walked out in 1990, the result was HB 1017; many of the reforms promised in that bill have failed to materialize.

This blog was written in 2015, at the 25th anniversary of HB 1017. The bill was touted as landmark legislation for Oklahoma, lowering class sizes, improving early childhood education, establishing graduation standards and norm-referenced testing, among other things. Over the years, HB 1017’s reforms have been eroded until there’s not much left to celebrate.

If your child is in public school, when was the last time he or she was in a class of less than 20 kids? That’s just one of the reforms that have somehow been forgotten. Teacher pay? Adequate school funding? Hmmm. No. We’re at the bottom of the barrel in both of those categories.

The public school landscape is much different from the one in 1990, when teachers walked out. So what’s different today than when our Republican Governor Henry Bellmon signed HB 1017? There’s no real will to support public education. Did you see the Betsy DeVos interview on “60 Minutes”? I don’t think she had ever been inside a public school until she became Secretary of Education.

School reform these days looks much different than it did in 1990. In 1990, we still believed in our public schools and recognized that if we came together for the greater good, we could improve our schools and provide a bright future for all children.

Today, school reform means that hedge fund operators, for-profit charter businesses, standardized test companies, and foundations (Gates, Walton, Broad, etc.) know how to run public schools better than professional educators. Charters do not perform better than public schools, yet we continue to funnel our tax dollars into charters that do not have local oversight, do not take all students, can get rid of under-performing students and do not necessarily provide the kind of cooperative/contextual/project-oriented education that creates healthy adults and critical thinkers.

Parents want good schools for their children. Period. Why put a charter school next to a public school that has been killed off from lack of funds, support, supplies, specialized staff and more? Rather than allowing the public school to die, why are we not finding out what the public school needs and providing that?

This is the current “reform” landscape, and this is the reason I hold out little hope that a teacher walk-out or a strike will change most legislators’ minds. I think the term that some of them use in reference to public schools is “government” schools, which they have great disdain for, even though most of them went to “government” schools. I’ve also heard the phrase “strangle the beast” in reference to public education. If public schools die, for-profit charters can step into the void, and many in the Oklahoma Legislature are happy to let that happen.

A recent article by Oklahoma Watch also outlines the reasons that the Legislature cannot find a way to increase public school funding. The authors of the article asked lawmakers why they didn’t vote for the Step Up Oklahoma plan. One side simply refuses to raise taxes. The article states:  “If that vote came up again today, I would vote against it,” said Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola. “It was just taking money out of one pocket to put it in another.”

Other Republicans, including Reps. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City; John Bennett, R-Sallisaw; Kevin West, R-Moore; and Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield, said they would still oppose the Step Up or similar plans if asked to vote again.

“I am 100 percent in favor of giving Oklahoma’s teachers a pay raise, but I am absolutely opposed to taxing Oklahomans excessively in order to pay for that raise,” Coody said.

Five of the six Republicans who responded suggested there are other ways to find money for teachers. Their plans, which include finding wasteful spending through audits, are unlikely to generate the large sum that OEA is demanding, and GOP leaders have yet to take those plans up.”

On the other hand, democrats responded: “But 11 of the 17 Democrats who opposed the Step Up plan reiterated their demand that a revenue package must not rely as much on regressive taxes, such as cigarette and fuel taxes, to win their support. Regressive taxes tend to hit lower- and middle-income taxpayers in greater proportions.

“Oklahoma’s tax structure has shifted the burden such that the poorer you are, the higher percentage of your income you pay in taxes,” said Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City. “The poorest are paying double what the wealthiest are paying, and it’s actually become too much for some families.”

Bennett was joined by Reps. Regina Goodwin, D-Oklahoma City; Emily Virgin, D-Norman; Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah; Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs; Colin Walke, D-Oklahoma City; Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa; and Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, in saying Thursday that upping gross production taxes would be a starting point to win their votes.

The group is seeking to increase the gross production rate to at least 5 percent rather than Step Up Oklahoma’s proposed 4 percent rate for the first 36 months of production, when a well’s lifetime production often is greatest. The current gross production tax rate is 2 percent for the first three years, after which it climbs to 7 percent.

Kouplen said Democrats want additional revenue, such as from higher income taxes on the wealthy, because even the $580 million Step Up plan provided for a $5,000 teacher raise but raised no new money to restore cuts to classroom activities.

“That was a big reason I was against Step Up. It didn’t address four-day (school) weeks, more classroom funding or attracting new teachers,” he said.”

I really, really hope that the Oklahoma Legislature can come up with a way to fund Oklahoma’s public schools, but I’m not holding my breath. Unfortunately, our children will pay the price now, and Oklahoma will be paying the price down the road when our children do not receive the education they deserve.

Categories: Editor’s Blog