I’ve been working off and on for a few days on a post on the education budget, especially the activities budget. I’m not going to finish it.
If you want to try to understand the process by which these decisions were made, you should go to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website and find the board documentation they provided. Some projects weren’t cut. Some were cut more heavily than others. You can also watch State Superintendent explain in the video below.
What’s done is done. We can dwell on it, as we plan for another school year with less money and more students. Instead, maybe we should do something about it. We can’t keep sending the same people to the Oklahoma Capitol and expect them to do different things. The government is broken, but we keep sending delegates from the same set of archetypes to represent us.
We have tax policy purists, who will never stray from their pledges to national groups that make adherents swear never to raise taxes. I like low taxes too, but I also like a state government that funds core services at something above famine level. More importantly, I like for our elected leaders to forego signing pledges to special interest groups. And yes, that includes public education. Make pledges to your voters.
We have people who can’t wait to throw their piety in your face. They want you to know and adhere to their moral code. They also want you to vilify anybody who believes differently.
We have people whose ambition seems to be their defining trait. They barely mask it. They migrate from interest to interest, always throwing their own name on top of whatever hot topic seizes the public’s attention. They love the issues that prey on the electorate’s emotions, even though they know that there is no way the legislation they propose or pass will ever be enacted.
I could go on and on, but what we don’t have is a critical mass of legislators who get it. Yes, I know that’s incredibly vague criticism, but I can be more specific.
If you look at the state’s budget overall, you can see that some agencies and services took harder hits than K-12 education did. Maybe it’s fair to say that our state leaders are angrier with OU president David Boren than they are with us. If that’s the case, maybe I should stop writing.
I tease. Of course spite would never factor into the budget writing process, right?
Our governor and legislators keep pointing to the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is really low. That’s not their fault, of course, but the policies of the last 10 years that have depleted state revenues are their fault. Again, I want low taxes. I also want fully funded schools. I want roads and bridges that don’t collapse under the weight of traffic. I want prisons that aren’t a danger to those who work there due to overcrowding. I want the state services for the poor, elderly, mentally ill, and drug-addicted to remain viable options for their families.
In short, I want state leaders who don’t kick the financial can down the road and balance the budget on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. So do many Oklahomans, and that is why we have so many primary races coming up that feature viable challengers to incumbent representatives and senators.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy wrote about this yesterday:
Mid-year cuts to public schools and other state services, along with a looming budget crisis, helped draw a record number of political newcomers to races for state House and Senate offices in Oklahoma this year.
Legislators will soon learn if the same general discontent exists among voters, who head to the polls June 28 for Oklahoma’s statewide primary election. Every Oklahoma senator up for re-election drew at least one opponent this year, while only 14 current House members went unopposed as a record number of candidates filed for office.
Rep. John Paul Jordan, a first-term Republican who represents the Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon, drew a slate of opponents including two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent.
“There’s frustration with the Legislature, and I think we’re looking at an election cycle where a lot of people are just frustrated with the status quo,” Jordan said.
We’re very frustrated. Incumbents know it. That’s why they’re doing anything they can to turn back their challengers. Murphy continues:
On the Senate side, two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa also was a popular target, drawing two Republican challengers, three Democrats and an independent. Among his Democratic opponents is a retired superintendent from Sand Springs, and Newberry acknowledges some pro-education groups would like to knock him out of office.
“I think it’s a concerted effort by a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work that’s being done in the Capitol building, and they want to take a shot at people running for re-election,” Newberry said.
I’ll admit to being a part of a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work being done at the Capitol. That’s why I’ve been flying the state flag upside down as a sign of distress on Facebook and Twitter for weeks. They aren’t serving their constituents. They’re serving their donors. Or their parties.
Typically, once either party can verify that you are a bonafide registered voter in that party, they let you look around in the pantry for any ingredients that will help you in the kitchen. In this case, however, the Oklahoma Republican Party has told Newberry’s primary challenger, Brian Jackson, that he can take his knives and go. Jackson and retiring Sand Springs superintendent Lloyd Snow – who is running for the same seat as a Democrat – are friends. They both know that Newberry’s record on public education is lousy, and they’ve said so, jointly. Neither is waging a partisan campaign. Much like the main characters in the Frog and Toad books, Brian and Lloyd are friends.
For those of us who choose people and issues over parties, the denial of resources to a bonafide candidate stinks to high heaven. If you look at just education issues, I’m probably going to agree with both Jackson and Snow a lot more than I would agree with Newberry. Beyond that, I’d be likely to agree with Snow on some issues and Jackson on another. I’m not beholden to either party. I don’t check all the boxes on either list.
I am a voter who supports public education, though, and I’m one who thinks that we are at a crossroads. We can make some serious change, and we can do it soon.
Still, some don’t believe. They think we’re doomed to fail. As the Tulsa World reported yesterday:
The strife during the recent legislative session and the proliferation of candidates it produced are unlikely to lead to a major challenge to Republican control of state government, political observers speaking at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa said Friday.
“I’ll be shocked if there’s a net change of two seats either way,” Republican political consultant Pat McFerron said.
I’m not looking to change the Republican to Democrat ratio in the House or Senate nearly as much as I’m looking to change the degree to which the chambers as a whole support public education. I’d love to see Jackson take Newberry out in the primary. If Jackson wins and comes up against Snow, I really don’t have a preference.
If we change two seats this month in the primary elections, that alone would be huge. Former State Board of Education member Tim Gilpin agrees:
What will make Oklahoma great again, or at least better? Answer — teachers. The last several years we’ve endured drastic cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. Cuts that are short-sighted and destructive to our present and future. This occurred while teachers were largely absent as a political force in Oklahoma. But, in the late 1980s educators were leaders in our state’s politics and we were better off for it. Cuts in our state budget started during the Great Recession. But even in the face of record energy prices and a national recovery, our state leaders continued cutting education and basic services. Our current problems are not all about low energy prices.
I have friends who have made lists. I even am a board member of a group that put out a list of pro-education candidates, though I don’t agree with all the selections. How could I? In a state as spread out as ours, I don’t have the information to know the ins and outs of all the races. After all, we have 101 representatives and 48 senators. All of the House and half of the Senate seats are up for re-election.
I’ve already chimed in on Newberry and two of his challengers. I’ll go ahead and give my two cents publicly on one more race.
Senate District 45 covers most of the Mustang school district and a considerable portion of the Moore school district. In other words, this race is about the places where I have spent the majority of my career. It even covers the far southwestern tip of Mid-Del. The incumbent, Kyle Loveless, is finishing his first term. I met him when I worked in Moore, and he came to ask us questions about the Reading Sufficiency Act. He even visited one of our elementary schools in Mid-Del last fall. I have no complaints about his availability. He is friendly and engaging when I’ve been around him.
His record on education leaves much to be desired, though. He is a staunch supporter of vouchers, and he frequently takes to social media to push the school consolidation agenda. He, along with members of groups that are openly hostile to public education, also often chastise schools for the actions of individuals. Somehow, even though Sen. Loveless has his own children in public schools, it serves him politically to paint schools as horrible places.
His opponent, on the other hand, is Mike Mason, a teacher at Mustang High School. I taught with Mike during my last six years at MHS. Teachers respected him. Parents and students appreciated him. He was teacher of the year for 2016, and the Oklahoman even ran a highly positive story on him prior to his filing for SD 45. Mike is a true educator and more than any other candidate I can name, one who would change the makeup of the Senate.
Mason is underfunded, compared to the incumbent, but money isn’t everything. Jeb Bush had more donations than any other presidential candidate. That didn’t work out too well for him, did it? If Mike is to win this seat – for that matter, if any of the challengers are to win, we simply have to overcome complacency. We have to vote.
Know which House and Senate seats represent you. Find your polling place or learn how to vote early. Donate to candidates
you support who support public education and volunteer for their campaigns. And call some friends.
This election cycle matters. We may not have the unifying symbol of She Who Must Not be Named to kick around anymore. We have to do more focused and detailed work to find and support good candidates who believe in public schools.
So what are you waiting for? We have 16 days.
One of the mysteries of our profession has always been why we insist upon teaching Romeo and Juliet to freshmen. Don’t get me wrong, as an English teacher, I know I’m not supposed to say anything bad about Shakespeare. And even though I’ve been out of the classroom for a while doesn’t mean that I want the elders to find me and drum me out of the club.
Still, it’s a play in which two teenagers fall in love at first sight, even though their families hate each other, and then lead their community through a series of misadventures that end with multiple murders and suicides. It’s the best of times, and it’s…oh wait, that’s Charles Dickens, another author to whom we subject our freshmen (and then wonder why they don’t love reading).
In any case, there’s just something about Shakespeare that intrigues me. That is why, when I had the chance to teach sophomores, and I had some grant money with which to buy literature, I purchased cheap copies of As You Like It and Merchant of Venice. The language was just as rich in his comedies; they were also less stabby (work with me here). Plus, occasionally, students will recognize lines they’ve heard in their own times.
This happened for my students in Act V, Scene iii of As You Like It:
It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring.
Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino
These pretty country folks would lie,
In spring time, & c.
This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In spring time, & c.
And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino;
For love is crowned with the prime
In spring time, & c.
First of all, in case you’re wondering, I did in fact add the word nonino to my computer’s dictionary. Also, I’m pretty sure that & c. was the yada, yada, yada of the early 17th century. You can trust me on this; I’m pretty sure I passed History of the English Language at OU.
Where I am certain is that part of that song appears in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Yes, Gene Wilder for the win.
As I raced home in the rain Friday, for some reason, Wilder singing that song was all I could hear. It is in fact spring time, and the birds are singing. Maybe not during heavy storms, but the rest of the time, they definitely are. These things are just markers of the season, much like the fact that it’s May, and our Legislature still has no semblance of a budget.
Yes, my friends, that was the most tortured segue in the history of this blog. Maybe I should just get to today’s two things:
1. Before we have a budget, we probably need to know how much a barrel of oil is going to cost, right? Sequoyah Public Schools Superintendent Terry Saul tweeted today that the price point has been set at $42/barrel.
Looking at the last 10 years, this is actually pretty conservative. According to Macrotrends, the price today is $44.75. In January, it had dipped below $30. Compare that with June 2008 ($139.96), and you can see why we’re struggling as a state. You can also see what caused the last downfall, as the barrel dipped to $42.
While I don’t understand the funding cuts public schools endured from 2010 through 2015, when the barrel was reliably above $70/barrel, even above $90 most of that time, I don’t have high hopes when we’re building a budget on $42/barrel oil. Still, it’s better than building one on smoke and mirrors, I guess & c.
2. While I don’t know what the budget outlook means for me as a superintendent budgeting for the upcoming school year, at this point, I do know that one zombie bill has enjoyed renewed life this spring time. A press release from House Democrats sounds the warning:
OKLAHOMA CITY (2 May 2016) – House Democrats on Monday condemned a proposal by Republican legislative leaders to give Oklahoma’s 42,400 public school teachers a pay raise by reducing their health insurance benefits.
Health insurance “is one of the few fringe benefits teachers in this state receive,” said Rep. Donnie Condit, a retired school teacher/administrator. “It’s one of the tools we use to recruit teachers,” the McAlester Democrat said. “Now the Republicans want to take away one of the few incentives we have to attract and retain quality teachers.”
“Teachers aren’t stupid,” said Rep. Brian Renegar. “They will not blindly accept a pay increase – which would include the withholding of income taxes – while simultaneously having their health insurance capped,” the McAlester Democrat said. Legislative Republicans “want to give teachers a pay raise with one hand by removing money from their wallets with the other hand,” he added. “This is a regressive idea.”
To be fair, there are plenty of House Republicans who think this is a bad idea too. At least there should be, given the number who have primary and general election challengers this year.
Let’s be clear: taking our insurance and calling it a raise isn’t a raise. Over time, it becomes a pay cut, with a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino.
Our legislators know this. The problem is that the House, the Senate, and the Governor can’t agree on any other way to either hold education funding flat or give teacher raises. If you wonder why we’re all forecasting a range in our 2016-17 budgets, and then planning for the worst case scenario, it’s because we have low expectations. Nothing we’ve seen convinces us that state leaders will figure this out.
Oh, I hear good ideas from some, but I have yet to see those come to fruition. Maybe they’ll surprise us.
In the meantime, all I see is a scary tunnel with no end in sight.