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Today’s Rally (and why the Oklahoman hates it)

March 31, 2014

As you probably know, today is the day that thousands of Oklahoma parents and educators will head to the State Capitol to rally for funding for public education. Many in attendance will also enter the Capitol to meet with their Representatives and Senators, discussing issues that range from funding to the relative merits of various school reforms. Yes, we will talk about more than money. We will also cover the Common Core (with many in both camps), the Reading Sufficiency Act (with most favoring HB 2625, giving parents and teachers real input about the retention decision; high-stakes testing in general; A-F Report Cards; Teacher and Leader Evaluation (particularly the quantitative piece).

As you also probably know, the Oklahoman absolutely hates this.

Don’t be fooled by Monday’s weather forecast in Oklahoma City — partly cloudy with the temperature about 80. For many of the state’s public school districts, this is a snow day.

Yes, administrators and teachers will abandon their posts in order to converge in Oklahoma City, to tell lawmakers that common education funding is inadequate. Students, having already lost several days due to real snowstorms, will get another day off for no good reason.

Not one member of the Legislature is unaware of how public schools feel about education funding. Lawmakers understand that school budgets have been cut in recent years. But they also know the check written to common ed is always larger than any other government entity. And they’re aware that no superintendent believes his or her district gets enough financial help from the state — ever.

That last line is probably true, but the tone of the editorial is entirely too flippant for me. That’s my thing!

Nobody is abandoning anything. As I’ve said before, no school district in the state is denying students of the 1080 hours of instruction mandated by state law. For the schools sending people but holding classes anyway, their staffs are taking leave (personal or professional). None of the transportation is being funded by taxpayers.

While we’re all aware that the legislators know of our frustration in public education, their actions during the last two legislative sessions don’t show much concern. Case in point is the editorial by Rep. Jason Murphey that ran in the Oklahoman yesterday.

Who pays this money? According to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report, each Oklahoman pays $1,596 per year in state and local funding for education. Provided a taxpayer lives to Oklahoma’s life expectancy of 72, he or his family will pay approximately $114,912 to state and local governments for his education. In addition to the many other forms of taxation, he will pay part of this fee through Oklahoma sales tax, which is the fifth-highest in the nation.

The observant will note that this amount exceeds the tuition at some of the area’s most popular private education institutions. Should it really be more expensive for a student to attend public schools than to attend the privatized counterparts?

There’s some tortured logic for you – extrapolating a lifetime of contributions for public education into an argument for private schools? Wait, I may be missing the point. It’s entirely possible. I often miss things that aren’t there at all.

At least the Tulsa World (as usual) is providing a different perspective, reminding their readers that in 1990, Oklahomans rallied to support HB 10 17, which was a landmark education reform measure.

As Oklahoma teachers, parents and supporters prepare to rally at the Oklahoma state Capitol in support of education funding, it is appropriate to look back at a similar effort nearly a quarter-century ago.

“Today truly is a day of excellence in Oklahoma. Today Oklahoma stands tall. A new day is dawning for education in Oklahoma.

“Our state will never again take a back seat in education.”

These words were spoken by Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon on April 19, 1990, after the state Senate approved the emergency clause of the landmark $230 million education funding and reform legislation, House Bill 1017.

Think about that. In 1990, educators had to lobby a legislature controlled by Democrats to get more funding. Their efforts were lauded by a visionary Republican governor. Of course, HB 1017 did more than pump money into schools and fund teacher raises. It also set the groundwork for Oklahoma’s first state standards, reduced class sizes, and implementing early childhood programs.

Recent legislative sessions have seen plenty of reforms, but always without the money to support them. That is the difference. That is why most of the legislators I’ve seen comment on the rally – from both political parties – have extended a welcoming hand. They want to fix what’s broken. They want to hear from us.

Rally hard. Fight the drizzle and wind. When you’re inside, use your inside voice. When you’re outside, use your outside voice. If you’re interviewed, calmly tell the world what is important to you and why you care so much. Tomorrow, read whatever drivel the Oklahoman editorial page prints and laugh. They know that parents and educators, speaking in unison are hard to ignore. That’s why they will say anything to discredit our efforts.

In the words of Miracle Max, Have fun stormin’ the castle!


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