But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
I don’t discuss national politics here very much. Whatever influence I have is limited to the state of Oklahoma. I can’t tell you much about the state of public education in Maine or Oregon. I haven’t researched it. I haven’t lived it.
I have lived in Oklahoma all my life though, and I’ve yet to see a time that we were flush with cash, as President Trump said Friday. I’ve worked in public education for 24 years, and I don’t believe that we’ve left our students deprived of all knowledge, either.
Public education advocates (me included) often share the table from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that Oklahoma schools have endured the deepest cuts in state funding in the country. The table also shows that while we aren’t exactly alone, more than 20 states have increased funding for public schools.
The CBPP includes a more detailed breakdown of the funding data:
Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than before the Great Recession, our survey of state budget documents over the last three months finds. Worse, some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold. Our country’s future depends crucially on the quality of its schools, yet rather than raising K-12 funding to support proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to high-quality early education, many states have headed in the opposite direction. These cuts weaken schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.
Our survey, the most up-to-date data available on state and local funding for schools, indicates that, after adjusting for inflation:
At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (that is, the school year ending in 2014) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold. In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.
In at least 18 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period. In at least 27 states, local funding rose, but those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support. Total local funding nationally ― for the states where comparable data exist ― declined between 2008 and 2014, adding to the damage from state funding cuts.
While data on total school funding in the current school year (2016) is not yet available, at least 25 states are still providing less “general” or “formula” funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student than in 2008. In seven states, the cuts exceed 10 percent.
Most states raised “general” funding per student slightly this year, but 12 states imposed new cuts, even as the national economy continues to improve. Some of these states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin, already were among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit.
During this time of recession and austerity, I take no comfort in knowing that other states share our misery. One reason is that Oklahoma continues doing the one thing that makes times like these harder.
Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but recently some have enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues. Four of the five states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years. (See Figure 6.) Another state that cut taxes deeply ― Kansas ― also has imposed large reductions in general school funding, but the precise size of those cuts cannot be determined because the state eliminated its funding formula earlier this year.
When it comes to politicians bashing public schools, I can’t let lies lie. We are hardly flush with cash. President Trump knows this, yet minutes after taking the Oath of Office, he said it anyway.
Unfortunately, if the lie is repeated enough, it will gain traction. That’s Trump’s plan. Lie and repeat. Don’t even rinse.
Trump’s son Barron attends a private school in New York where tuition is $45,000 annually. Does he want to compare our schools with that one? Does he not understand that public schools have nowhere near that kind of funding? To be fair, neither do most private schools.
The second prong of the lie – that we deprive our students of all knowledge – is simply ridiculous. Public education critics typically look at international test scores to show that other countries’ students outperform ours. Data without context is a dangerous thing, though.
American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Finland outperform Finland’s schools. American schools serving students with a similar level of poverty to Canada outperform Canada’s schools. And Estonia. And Australia. And New Zealand and Japan. Yes, Japan.
We have amazing schools in this country and in this state, but they don’t all exist to serve the same purpose. Nor do all of the countries to which we compare ourselves serve all students. They don’t all serve special education students. Comprehensive high school education for all is not a guarantee in every nation.
These facts don’t matter to Trump and the school reformers drooling over his election. His lie feeds the narrative that public schools are failing. It feeds the sycophants too, which brings me to Betsy DeVos.
Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education has paid her way into his Cabinet. She’s very open about this.
Trump may have run against big money in politics, but his choice for Education Secretary has made no apologies about her family’s political spending. Betsy DeVos has been a major financial backer of legal efforts to overturn campaign-spending limits. In 1997, she brashly explained her opposition to campaign-finance-reform measures that were aimed at cleaning up so-called “soft money,” a predecessor to today’s unlimited “dark money” election spending. “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,” she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. “I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”
You and I don’t have a chance of being heard by the likes of Trump and DeVos. Collectively, all of us who will read this post probably don’t have the wealth of any member of the DeVos family. For years, we’ve been fighting the Kochs and Waltons in this state. She just adds to the oligarchy.
That’s why I found an exchange between DeVos and Senator Bernie Sanders during her confirmation hearing this week very interesting:
Sanders: “Mrs. DeVos, there is a growing fear, I think, in this country that we are moving toward what some would call an oligarchic form of society, where a small number of very, very wealthy billionaires control, to a significant degree, our economic and political life. Would you be so kind as to tell us how much your family has contributed to the Republican Party over the years?”
DeVos: “Senator, first of all thank you for that question. I again was pleased to meet you in your office last week. I wish I could give you that number. I don’t know.”
Sanders: “I have heard the number was $200 million. Does that sound in the ballpark?”
DeVos: “Collectively? Between my entire family?”
Sanders: “Yeah, over the years.”
DeVos: “That’s possible”
Sanders: “Okay. My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude. Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”
DeVos: “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”
Well which is it, Mrs. DeVos? Do your donations buy you unlimited access inside the walls of influence, or did you get there because you’re so involved and well-informed?
I really need not to focus on this. Yes, she made the ridiculous statement that we need guns in school because of grizzly bears, but this moment of comic relief is a distraction. I downloaded I don’t know how many bear memes and gifs while I’ve been working on this post. I admit it’s slowed me down.
DeVos also was confused by the difference between proficiency and growth. She had no clue what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is. Is it possible the Secretary of Education-nominee has never heard of the country’s foundational special education law?
Presidents have a right to appoint the people to their Cabinet who they feel are best-equipped to execute their policy initiatives. That’s what winning the election gets them. The Senate has to confirm those appointments, though. Merely going through the motions of a confirmation hearing, however, does not meet that standard.
I’m bothered by many of the things DeVos believes about education. I’m more concerned, however, about the fact that she simply has no clue what she’s doing. Understanding the difference between proficiency and growth is so easy that a dentist could get it!
Oh wait, bad example.
Maybe the Senate will deny DeVos. On the other hand, she’s put a lot of money into the campaigns of many who will make that decision. Even if they don’t confirm her, she’ll be replaced with someone else who shares the Trump mindset and who is willing to repeat the lie.
We must fight back with truth.
I wrote this four years ago at the beginning of National School Choice week, and I thought it would be worth sharing again. We have many of the same threats to public education we had then, and we have some new ones too.
Demand of our elected leaders that public schools have the resources to meet the needs of our children – all of them.
The mantra this week is that parents should get to choose the schools their children attend; that their zip code shouldn’t choose it for them. It’s quite the idyllic belief – that out there, somewhere is the perfect school.
As a parent, I’m still looking. Here’s what I hope to find.
- I choose a school that values children for the unique individuals they are.
- I choose a school with a strong, active PTA.
- I choose a school where the parents of the other children value education as much as I do.
- I choose a school that has well-paid faculty who are happy to come to work.
- I choose a school where the teachers receive meaningful professional development and are treated as professionals.
- I choose a school that teaches all students, regardless of background or ability.
- I choose a school that has enough technology to prepare my child for the world…
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I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
–Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer
One of my former students, Larin Sears Rottman, is a teacher in Washington, DC. Her husband is an assistant principal there. Both are University of Oklahoma graduates, and they still have family in this part of the country, but they love it out there. I mention this because of an article that she posted to Facebook over the weekend. She added this at the beginning:
This is a very short read that is very real for me. I am from Oklahoma, but D.C. is my HOME. I live in a real house, in a real neighborhood. I wake up each day and go to my real job to make the world a really better place. There are far more REAL people than politicians in my city. Respect D.C.
I won’t post the article here, but you get the basic idea. People who have real families and live in real neighborhoods and who work and send their kids to real schools there don’t like the generalization that it’s a swamp.
Sure, 220 years ago, when Pierre L’Enfant began to lay out the city design Actually, the District was never a swamp. It was a tidal marsh. But DRAIN THE TIDAL MARSH doesn’t really roll off the tongue, now does it.
Still, as of 2009, 46% of DC’s residents were actually born there. For that matter, OU President David L. Boren – the son of a congressman – was too.
Generalizations hurt. When you make them, even if you mean for this to happen, you’re probably hurting the wrong people.
Over the last couple of months, since the defeat of State Question 779, I’ve seen more of them on social media. Everyone is making them!
It’s the love language of identity politics. Liberals this. Conservatives that. Gender. Race. Religion. Sexual Identity. Wealth. Geography.
That’s one of my favorite ones. Remember when Ted Cruz was attacking Donald Trump for being from New York? Or have you heard a defensive Republican point out that Hillary’s popular vote margin over Trump is virtually erased if you exclude California? It makes sense. After all, that’s more American than discounting the opinion of voters in the most populous state?
Even making generalizations about voters is specious. Hillary supporters are just a bunch of whiny crybabies (or crybaby whiners, if you prefer). Trump supporters excuse all the horrible things he says. I’m probably doing this wrong because I never use exclamation points. Ever!
This isn’t a blog about DC, or presidential politics, or racism, or sexism, or class warfare, though. It’s an education blog in which I have tried, for nearly five years, to set the record straight. Mainly, this involves responding to the action (or inaction) of policymakers and false narratives presented by groups with influence.
Generalizations seep into the public education conversation too much too. Whether it’s a state senator talking about all the waste in public schools (without offering a single example), or another one making sweeping, disparaging remarks about school board members, this kind of recklessness does not steer us towards solutions.
With the First Regular Session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature set to convene in 19 days, I’m unwilling to make generalizations about this new group as a body. The book is closed on the 55th Legislature. I can comfortably say that they failed us – both sessions. They built upon the failures of the 54th and 53rd legislatures. For six straight years (three straight Legislatures), we’ve been treated to a menu of fiscal catastrophes.
I don’t blame all the legislators (lowercase). I blame the Legislature (uppercase) though. The body failed to help with teacher raises, specifically, and with so many other critical state functions, in general. Individuals within that body had good intentions, though. Many did. Maybe most did. They just couldn’t get it done. In the end, we won’t judge you by your intentions. It’s your outcomes that tilt our moods.
That doesn’t mean the 56th Legislature will be the same, though. We have 45 new legislators. Most of them love teachers. Just ask them!
We need to remember that they haven’t served during the session yet. We really need to remember that when we engage them on social media. Some of the returning legislators are on our side too. Maybe many. Maybe most.
My friend Blue Cereal Education posted a blog this morning titled Don’t Raise Teacher Pay (To Be Nice).
We shouldn’t tolerate the implication we’re somehow looking for charity; we’re not. It’s unbecoming to play on sympathy, especially when we’re not the only profession getting shortchanged at the moment. Besides, pity or warm toasties are horrible reasons to raise teacher pay or increase school funding. They’re emotionally driven, unreliable, and fundamentally inaccurate.
Public schools aren’t businesses, nor should they be. You’ll hear that a lot in the upcoming voucher battles, and it’s entirely true. But neither are we charities, or churches, or some type of third world profession. We’re not asking for handouts or love offerings while Sarah McLachlan plays in the background.
Nevertheless, teacher pay needs to go up substantially, and soon – but not for me. It needs to go up for you. And your kids. And your pocketbook. And your state.
A decent public education system is an essential function of civilization. We’re a fundamental element in the social contract that allows people to live together in relative peace, to specialize, to become more productive, and to progress artistically, culturally, medically, financially, and lots of other –allys.
Blue Cereal is right. All teachers need raises. I’m not saying that all teachers are fantastic or that all superintendents are worth what their districts pay them. I’m not saying I’ve never met a board member with an agenda. Nor am I saying that all legislators or all Republicans in the state are out to get us.
As an example, I recently had an exchange about school funding (and waste) via Facebook Messenger with a legislator I know. I won’t share his remarks (without his consent), but I’ll share a portion of mine:
I have some thoughts on waste. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the beholder. We have some patrons who don’t value athletics at all. To them, every time we buy a football helmet, it’s waste. To the mom whose son is on the field getting hit, it’s not. Some people want us to get rid of the arts. Or transportation. Or child nutrition. Or they want teachers to clean their own rooms (which I would highly suggest not proposing).
I managed a restaurant for four years in college. There I learned that limiting waste, more than anything, was about predicting the future. If we prepped a certain amount of food expecting customers and had to throw a lot of it away, which was wasteful. Some nights at closing, we threw away very little. Sometimes, we underprepared which then backed up the kitchen, and probably cost us business.
My point is that every enterprise has waste. Every government agency and every business does. Every superintendent I know tries to limit it – often to the point of increasing the frustration of the workforce. You won’t find one of us who hasn’t tried to find waste.
I get it. You’re trying. So are we. In trying times, that’s what we all do.
Jayden Mills, a Chickasha HS Senior, has some great thoughts on bad analogies. His post has a perfect ending! I’m glad he’s getting a great education where my parents and grandparents did.
Senator Kyle Loveless posted on Facebook, “My opinion piece in the Oklahoman about Educational freedom” attached was this article. If you’re reading this, chances are you know how I feel about Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) or vouchers.
But what really irks me about this particular post is that in his article, he compares his envisioned education market with the competitive market of the car service industry: “When my car breaks down, I don’t do business with the closest mechanic to my home. I find the mechanic who can provide the best service and repair for my money.” He goes on to say that he is “proposing legislation that allows qualified families to move their child from a public school and take up to 75 percent of the student’s funding with them.”
What I’d like to know (And I commented this on his Facebook post) is this:
Imagine that the closest mechanic…
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Tonight I will be moderating the weekly #oklaed Twitter chat at 8 pm. I asked students I know (mostly from my Superintendent’s Advisory Board) to submit questions.
They sent me over 30! I had a hard time eliminating them, so prepare yourself for a fast and furious ride.
If you’ve never participated in a Twitter chat, rest assured it’s easy. Just search for #oklaed and follow along. Jump in when you feel like it. Or lurk. Plenty of people show up and just watch it all happen.
If you are a high school or college student, I especially would love for you to join us. Your experiences and ideas need to guide our long-range planning more than anyone else’s. You’re the primary stakeholders in what we do.
Here are the questions, in case you want to think about your responses in advance. See you tonight!
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
–Foo Fighters, Best of You
Edmond parent and fierce #oklaed activist Angela Little wrote a reminder to us this week on Facebook about the newly elected legislature.
In case you can’t read the image, here’s the text:
Let’s play pretend for a moment…. Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was a school where they taught kids nothing and just let them sit around and watch movies all day. Parents were obviously irate and didn’t want their kids at this school. So the district decides to clean house and hire new admin and new teachers. Fresh start for this school. Now pretend you are one of the brand new teachers or admin hired. But the parents still hated this school because of how it once was. Do you feel that’s fair to you and your abilities since the issue was with the past staff not the current? I can only imagine you would like the chance to show these parents that you are going to do things differently and want them to have an open mind on this instead of preconceived notions, correct?
It’s a brand new Legislature, folks. We have like 40+ freshman and an entirely new leadership. Don’t hold them accountable for mistakes of their predecessors. This doesn’t mean we should proceed without caution but we must give them a chance to show us what they can do to help our cause.
It’s a good analogy. It really is. I’ve told parents and community members for as long as I can remember not to judge a school today by the memories they have of it from when they were growing up. New blood is a good thing.
Or are you gone and on to someone new…
Still, there are 100+ returning members of the legislature, and some of them – I’d like to think fewer than 20 – are virulently against us. They have a vouchers or death mentality. They want to starve public schools to create larger gaps in services and then point out the schools’ shortcomings so they can divert funding to private schools. For years, we’ve listened to promises from many to support funding teacher raises, and nothing of the sort has happened.
In the past, those people have been in leadership roles. I won’t name them here. My perception is that those carrying the flag for such causes now have less sway among their colleagues.
I was too weak to give in, too strong to lose…
What concerns me is that we’re Oklahoma, and we have a type. Sure, we may have moved on to some new people, but on the whole, we tend to put up with the same behaviors we have said we would never again accept. It’s human nature.
Has someone taken your faith? It’s real, the pain you feel…
Rep. Michael Rogers (who authored last year’s bill revamping teacher evaluation – for the better) is proposing a $6,000 teacher raise. HB 1114 would raise the minimum teacher’s salary by $1,000 for the 2017-18 school year, another $2,000 for the 2018-19 school year, and another $3,000 for the 2019-20 school year.
I have three fairly significant questions about the bill:
- How will the state fund the raises?
- Will funding come on top of money to restore cuts that public schools have faced in recent years?
- Will districts paying above the state minimum have to give raises at least this large?
Let me be clear, though. I want this bill to pass. I appreciate Rep. Rogers putting it forward. I even emailed him today to tell him so.
The hope that starts, the broken hearts…
I just don’t want to get my hopes up yet. Teacher raises have been a long time coming. Even if this passes, we’ll continue losing teachers. A $1,000 raise won’t keep many people in Oklahoma. Implementation might be too slow for some, and that’s a problem.
New House Speaker Charles McCall has said he supports the bill, and that he thinks it has a good chance of passing. On paper, they believe it would raise Oklahoma teacher salaries to the highest in the region.
The surrounding states are bound to raise teacher salaries too. If HB 1114 passes and salaries climb by $6,000 over the next three years, we probably won’t be at the top. Also, the variance in teacher pay among districts in Texas varies much more than it does here. It has to do with the way schools are funded in the different states.
Still, it’s something. Senator Holt’s ideas for a $10,000 raise are worth discussing too. His plan lacks details, but he needs to get a chance to promote it. Maybe I was too dismissive of it myself last year.
It’s been two months since voters rejected SQ 779, which would have funded $5,000 raises for teachers.That sting is fresh. Because of all the build up, that amount is the minimum raise many teachers are willing to settle for.
In the halls of the Capitol Wherever there is a microphone at the Capitol, there is a representative or senator willing to give lip service to teacher raises – with strings attached.
I’ll support raises for teachers if you’ll agree to a merit pay system…
I’ll support raises for teachers if we’ll consolidate all of the school districts…
I’ll support raises for teachers if they’ll all burn their union memberships…
And where there is a legislator proposing raises with conditions, there is a chorus of usual suspects willing to add a loud Harumph!
That should be our challenge – to keep focus on the people like McCall, Rogers, and Holt. They mean well.While it’s rare a bill written in January passes as written, this should be our starting point.We should avoid the harumphing kind of people whenever possible.
If you can’t see staying in Oklahoma because of the hope of $1,000, I get it. You have to do what’s best for you and your family.
I’ve got another confession my friend, I’m no fool.
I’m getting tired of starting again, somewhere new…
I’m still here, and I’m going to support ideas that have the potential to move us forward.
A year ago at this time, we were just beginning to learn the depths of our state’s revenue failure. The state had declared a revenue failure, which began a series of cuts for school districts everywhere. It’s not just that we knew we’d have less money for the following school year; no, we had to make cuts right away.
I’ll come back to that in a minute.
Today, superintendents around Oklahoma had a serious sense of déjà vu.
In case you can’t read the image, it’s a memo from Superintendent Hofmeister letting us know of a funding shortfall (which is different than a revenue failure). Here’s the key part:
Based on the December revenue collections, the 1017 Fund is approximately $11.7 million or 3.5 percent below the estimate. The total January deposits are approximately $9.7 million short of the funds needed to make the scheduled payment in full.
At this time, for payment purposes, instead of reallocating State Aid Allocations statewide, we will reduce the percentage of payment based on available cash.
- For Financial Support of Schools (State Aid formula funding), we are only able to pay 8.47 percentthis month instead of the scheduled 9 percent (a 0.53 percent payment reduction).
- The January accumulated percentageof the latest allocation is 53.47 percent.
- To calculate your state aid payment, multiply the accumulated percentage by the most recent allocation and then subtract the amount paid to date. The result is the amount of payment for each month.
- The effective date for the January payment remains Thursday, January 12, 2017.
- At this time, all other line items continue to be paid at the scheduled accumulated percentage.
We will continue to look at each month’s cash revenue and re-evaluate our course of action on a monthly basis.
School districts receive 11 monthly state aid payments. They are uneven. There is no July payment. The August payment is eight percent of the overall state aid. September and May are ten percent. The other months are nine percent.
Wait, that’s a lot of numerical verbiage. Let me try it in a table.
|Month||% of State Aid Received||Month||% of State Aid Received|
For the first six months of this fiscal year, we received the payments we expected to receive. The memo today tells us our January payment will be short.
It will be on time, but it will be short. The shortage will be different for each district, but our payment will be about $281,000 less than we were expecting.
And that’s just January. We don’t know if this fund will be short again next month, or maybe every month for the rest of the fiscal year.
And we don’t know about other funds.
And we don’t know if the state will declare revenue failure again this year.
What I know is that we cut over $5 million from our budget this year and elimnated about 100 jobs. Yet somehow, we’re still taking on water.
That’s why I hate the question, “How can school districts save money?” We’re already doing that. And the people who work for us are busy exploring their options.
At the semester, we had a teacher leave us to take a job in a correctional facility. That’s the most re-tweeted tweet I’ve ever tweeted. Apparently that struck a nerve with people. It did with me. That’s why I tweeted it.
It also struck a nerve when the editorial writers at the Oklahoman tried to make sense of Rep. Kevin Calvey’s press release about Superintendent Hofmeister’s budget request. Their synthesis only made things worse.
Bureaucrats seldom volunteer to embrace efficiency and often resort to doomsday rhetoric when changes to the status quo are proposed. The problems noted with the Department of Education’s budget request won’t be unique among state agencies.
Whether we volunteered for it or not, whether we’re embracing it or not, we’re becoming more efficient. As for the doomsday rhetoric, I’ll refer you to today’s memo and to the teacher leaving us for a correctional facility.
Teachers want raises. They also want to have manageable class sizes. Oh, and they want current instructional materials. Technology that works would be nice too. It’s the little things.
Today, I don’t feel like blaming anyone. I don’t feel like calling out particular politicians who I think have contributed to a climate in which all functions of state government are suffering.
I also don’t feel like being told we need to be more efficient.
A few legislators get it.
A few isn’t enough. Today, we bleed a little more. Next month? I don’t want to think about that yet. I’m just waiting on the weather to possibly give us another four-day week.
One way or another, we have to make ends meet, right?