We’ll Get You That Pony!

My dad used to tell me a story about his grandmother promising him a pony for Christmas every year. She didn’t have the means to get him a pony, so he was continually disappointed when one never materialized. Who knows her motivation for that promise? I’m sure his grandmother had good intentions of wanting to get that pony, but I have to think that when she saw the hope drain from my dad’s eyes on Christmas morning that she would have realized that telling him the truth would have been a better option.

That’s how I feel about the Oklahoma Legislature. They keep telling us that teachers are going to get a raise and that they care about our schools (and our children), but why not just be honest about it? Rather than stringing us along, just tell the truth. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any real energy put toward plugging the drain on education, not to mention health, mental health, prisons, roads, etc., etc.

There seems to be some talk about finding revenue somewhere, but I haven’t seen much action. The policy-making action appears to be going toward the usual deflection topics of abortion, vaccines and guns, while parents, teachers and public school administrators are waving their arms and yelling, “hey we’re drowning over here!”

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist and the school board have been forced into making gut-wrenching choices to just keep the district afloat. Closing schools, putting west-side Tulsa middle school kids in with Webster High School kids and cutting some athletic programs are just starters.

Those elementary schools that are being closed are part of a community. Neighborhood schools create community.

Athletics and art programs create community. They’re the reason that many students love school. They’re also the foundation for many careers. Not everyone is going to be an engineer or an astronaut.

A student from Jenks High School just got accepted to eight Ivy League schools. That’s an amazing accomplishment, and she should be so proud of her hard work and her achievements. But what if that young woman hadn’t had access to rigorous AP classes? Many competitive schools look at a student’s extracurriculars such as athletics, drama, art, debate, photography and film or music. They also, I would think, want to see students who had attended school five days a week. Our Oklahoma students cannot continue to be competitive without proper funding.

And the teachers — it’s no secret that Oklahoma is losing veteran teachers and having trouble replacing them. Those who become teachers don’t do it for the money, but they do want to live above poverty level, have support, autonomy and small class sizes so that they can do the very best for their students. I’m glad that my kids are out of school and currently live out of state. I hate to say that, but it’s true. If I were a parent with young children now, I wouldn’t want my children in a class with 40 other kids. My kids’ teachers were caring, experienced educators. I’m not sure that filling teaching slots with people who are not professional educators is a good idea, but I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures. One parent told me that at her son’s elementary school, if a teacher is absent, they can’t even find substitutes so they just combine two classes. Not much learning happens on those days with more than 45 elementary school kids crammed into one classroom.

My kids also had the opportunity to take any AP class they wanted, and to be on volleyball, cross country and swim teams, all of which will probably be eliminated because they don’t attract as many students as the bigger sports. I also hate to see any middle school sports being eliminated, or combined with other schools. Middle school kids need to be active and engaged. Besides giving kids something healthy to do after school, sports create school spirit and pride.

Having sports and the arts in public schools also levels the playing field between the haves and the have-nots. Parents with financial means can enroll their children in out-of-school extracurricular activities and sports, while those whose parents can’t afford it are left with no enrichment activities.

Oklahoma Legislators need to be honest with teachers. A bill was put forth to increase pay by $1000 the first year, and then more for two years following that, but there’s no revenue. Where is that money going to come from? Be honest, unless our lawmakers are willing to find more revenue, it’s not going to happen. Raising taxes doesn’t have to be a phrase that strikes horror in our hearts. Living in a state that is not investing in children, letting the poor go without food or healthcare – that should strike horror in our hearts.

Unfortunately, the budget hole will only get deeper next year, so we really can’t wait it out. There is hope, though. The Oklahoma Policy Institute has suggested some sensible revenue generating options such as

  • Partially offset the income tax cuts of the past decade by assessing a high-income surcharge;
  • Eliminate the capital gains tax break;
  • Restore the 7 percent tax rate on gross production;
  • Adopt combined corporate reporting;
  • Raise the cigarette tax.

You can download a two-page fact sheet here.

Also, read the blog from Together Oklahoma, which offers similar suggestions.

And, call your legislator. There are lawmakers who believe that public schools already have too much money. If that were true, superintendents would not be looking for ways to cut the budget in such draconian ways. A parent at one of the TPS elementary schools that is being closed was upset that she didn’t know about the decision sooner, and that she didn’t have a say in it. The reality is that we all have a say in it. The decision isn’t Superintendent Gist’s fault. She’s trying to do her best with what she has. I hope that the parent who feels she doesn’t have a say is registered to vote because that’s where she can make the difference. She can also call, write or email her representative. There are two bills being considered, SB 170 and SB 130, that would repeal or delay a further income tax cut. Here’s where to find your legislator.

And, if your legislators offer you a pony, don’t believe them.

Categories: Editor’s Blog