This election season started a long time ago. Can you believe the first Republican debate in the presidential race was August 6, 2015? The first debate for the Democrats was two months later. We’ve been listening to the vitriol and obscenity of these people for well over a year now.
You would think that having longer to vet our presidential candidates would be a good thing. Yet here we are. These two. I won’t say their names or add their pictures here, but they are the major source of our collective politics fatigue right now. I know a few people who enthusiastically support one or the other of them. Most, however, seem to be voting against one of them.
I hope that we feel better about our local and state races. In the last month, several have turned ugly – maybe not to the extent of the presidential election, but then again, the stakes aren’t as high.
Candidates like Paul Sullivan (HD 69) and Lloyd Snow (SD 37) deserve #oklaed support, not just because of what they’ve done and who they are, but because of what their opponents have done and who they are. The same can be said for so many others. Here are a few:
- Kimberly Fobbs (SD 33)
- Rhonda Harlow (SD 16)
- John Waldron (SD 39)
- Rhonda Cox (SD 3)
- Shawn Sheehan (SD 15)
- Tom Stites (HD 2)
- Collin Walke (HD 87)
- Forrest Bennett (HD 92)
- Mickey Dollens (HD 93)
By the way, if any of these people feel any sense of accomplishment with me supporting them, they should know that candidates I’ve endorsed in the past have a pretty lousy winning percentage.
There are some races in which I don’t know enough to offer an opinion. And there are others I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.
Then there are the state questions. I’m not a farmer, but 777 seems like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have this strange feeling it would tie our Legislature’s hands unnecessarily, like SQ 640 did a generation ago. Lawmakers would have to have a “compelling state interest” to pass any regulations about farming/ranching. Shouldn’t “compelling state interest” be the threshold for passing all laws? Maybe if you can’t show that, you should just sit on your hands in general.
State question 790 feels the same way to me. It plays into the myth of the war on Christianity. Framers of the initiative want you to believe this is the vehicle for placing the Ten Commandments statute back on the lawn of the Capitol building. The Oklahoma Policy Institute sees 790 differently.
Even if voters approve SQ 790, there is some possibility that the United States Supreme Court will rule that the Ten Commandment monument’s display on public grounds violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions have prohibited some Ten Commandment monument displays while allowing others. The Court’s reasoning has depended on the history and context of each monument.
That’s actually the best case scenario for the backers of 790. The longer they can keep alive the narrative that rogue courts hate our values, the longer they can keep their base inflamed. It’s all a distraction.
It’s a distraction. The real push is for a way to divert public school dollars to private religious schools (more than they are already doing). Truthfully, if our leaders want to abide by the Ten Commandments, they shouldn’t need a statue on the lawn to remind them.
Then there’s SQ 779 – the penny sales tax. I’ve seen some bizarre ads recently that include supposed teachers who don’t trust that the money will be used for raises. I’ve seen accusations that the revenue estimates are too high. Or they’re too low. Or that it will really just create an administrative slush fund.
I’m a superintendent, so you know why I want it to pass. I want it for the 14,500 students I serve and for the people who work daily with them. If the tax generates more than we need for $5,000 raises, we will be deliberate in showing where that money goes. I’d like to add back some of the positions we’ve cut. I’d like to increase support salaries. I’d like to get to some of that deferred maintenance our teachers keep showing me in their buildings. Wherever it goes, though, I’m going to show it to you as clearly as I can.
What I will also be able to show you is where our teachers will go if it fails. Some will leave on I-35. Some on I-40. Heck, some may even use I-44 or one of the many state and US highways that dot Oklahoma’s perimeter. SQ 779 is a referendum on the failure of our Legislature and governor to improve public school funding. One way or another, we’re turning a corner. We’re either starting to fix our problems, or we’re committing to deepening them. Just because it’s closing time, doesn’t mean we have to make bad decisions…
…which reminds me that I haven’t discussed SQ 792. Modernizing the state’s liquor laws is probably about 50 years past due. I know there will be an adjustment period for retailers, but I look at this as a potential win for teachers too. God knows they deserve it.
The Republic Will Endure.
Over the weekend, I read that the public’s dissatisfaction with the two major party candidates for President may lead to low voter turnout. That’s disappointing. Even if you have a seething dislike for both Trump and Clinton – and it’s fine that you do – there is so much else to consider. I’ll let the Oklahoman’s Ben Felder sum it up:
I’m not in Oklahoma County, but that sounds about right. I went to the Oklahoma State Election Board website and searched for the actual ballot I’ll see on Election Day. Here it is:
I have a total of 13 human choices and seven ballot questions. That means I could, in theory, skip the presidential choice at the top, and still vote for 19 other people and things.
The people we send to Washington matter. The people we send to Oklahoma City matter. For me, the presidential ticket is five percent of the ballot. It’s also the part that’s unlikely to make a huge difference in my day-to-day life.
If you click on their names, Google will give you their campaign websites and any social media accounts associated with them. Sure, the election is 13 days away, but if you’re not informed by now, take a crash course, brought to you by the World Wide Web.
I know we’re all weary of the campaigning and the side shows that accompany it. It’ll all be over soon, and the Republic will endure.
Here we are, 23 days away from Election Day, and two things are still true.
Ok, well, not those two things. I am rooting for the Cubs in the playoffs right now, but as for the other, I prefer something that isn’t so mass produced – maybe even something made in Oklahoma.
No, the two things that are still true are (1) that we still have a massive teacher shortage, and (2) that many teachers in Oklahoma qualify for government assistance programs, such as WIC and Sooner Care.
This election will be critical, but at the top of the ballot, we have two figures whose personalities turn people off in droves. I won’t get into that. We must look past that and vote anyway. We have several state questions that are important, and dozens of competitive legislative races. Unfortunately, there are no statewide office holders on the ballot this time around.
One thing that really hit home for me this week was when a friend asked me to guest lecture in his class for pre-service teacher candidates at Oklahoma State University. I also had the chance to speak to a broader group before the class discussion.
I really didn’t know what to expect when I met with America’s Brightest Orange ™. We had some great comments and conversations about the state of public schools in our state. In both talks, though, I had to answer a question, somewhere along the lines of, “After I graduate, why should I stay in Oklahoma?”
My answer, as I was mindful of the fact that this during work hours, was that if SQ 779 passed, or if the our elected leaders could find a meaningful way to give raises to teachers, that there are a bunch of reasons to stay. (I also told them that if they choose to stay in Oklahoma, they should choose Mid-Del. Don’t judge. You’d have promoted your own district as well.)
I also told them that if the state can’t find a way to raise teacher salaries before they graduate, then I can’t in good conscience market the state of Oklahoma to them. I love it here. I’m a fourth generation Oklahoman and I’ve lived here my whole life. My own children are looking elsewhere, though.
We also talked about the lack of students entering the profession in the traditional way, through the teacher prep programs at our colleges and universities.
I know some great teachers who started their careers with alternative certification. I even know some teachers with emergency certification who work out just fine. Over the years, though, it’s the teachers who went to college with the intent to become teachers who tend to work out most reliably and stay with us the longest.
I’ve written it many times, but once you sign to come to work for me, I don’t care what pathway you took into the profession. Our job is to support you and help you become a rock star teacher. With the people I have around me in Mid-Del who are geared to support just that, it’s much easier to make the case of why you should come work for us than why you should stay in Oklahoma.
I didn’t say it directly on Thursday, but I support SQ 779 – the penny sales tax. I tire of the argument that we’re letting the Legislature (and governor) off the hook for failing to do their jobs. The truth is that the bigger the margin of victory, the more it will be seen as a reprimand. We’re calling out our elected leaders.
They’ve spent the last six years with one party control of the government, yet per pupil state aid for schools has steadily declined. The first four of those years, they missed an opportunity to help all core state services while oil prices were at historically high levels.
The last two years, they’ve built flimsy budgets on faulty estimates. This led to a massive revenue shortfall last year, and the state miscalculated that too. This fiscal year, the state continues to fail to meet revenue collection estimates. That means we’ll likely see another revenue failure declaration and more budget cuts – after the election, of course.
Voting for SQ 779 is important because our various branches of government can’t agree on (a) how to fund public education adequately, or (b) just how much money they’re working with in the first place. These are also reasons why we must send some different people to the Capitol.
As much as I want to, I won’t specifically endorse any candidates for November’s election. Yes, it’s my personal blog, and I’m on my own time. I have every right to do what I want, but I’m increasingly aware of the fact that I need to have good working relationships with whoever voters send to 23rd and Lincoln.
That said, if you want to educate yourself about many of the races, my friend at Blue Cereal Education has some great candidate comparison. Whenever possible, he lets candidates’ own words do the talking. In particular, I find his information on House Districts 69 and 93, and Senate Districts 33 and 37 particularly compelling.
Educating yourself about candidates is a moral imperative. According to a Sooner Poll survey cited in the Oklahoman today, teachers feel quite underappreciated.
A vast majority of public school teachers across the state have an unfavorable opinion of the state Legislature — 81 percent, according to SoonerPoll — which has some teachers seeing similarities between this year and 2014.
In unrelated news, puppies are cute.
If we’re all really that frustrated, then we need to get off of our butts on Election Day and do something about it. The people who still want to wreck public education keep finding new angles.
I’m not making this up. Yes, the OCPA, which refutes that climate change is even a thing, now wants us all to support school choice in order to help the environment.
That reminds me, as long as you’re voting on November 8th, you should probably take a good hard look at SQ 790. Supporters claim that the intent is to allow us to move the 10 Commandments statue back to the Capitol. The fact that it currently sits in front of the OCPA building speaks volumes though. It’s really a back door for spending state money on religious education. I’ll be voting no on that one.
Again, if you’re a parent, educator, or future teacher, you need to vote. You need to vote in numbers that exceed the averages for other groups of people.
Public schools educate 90 percent of Oklahoma’s children. If we have any chance of continuing to serve them effectively, we can’t sit this one out.
Ignore the presidential election if you must. Just be informed and make smart choices.
Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine seven days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.
This article by Andrea Eger in the Tulsa World last night highlights the reversal of some cuts by the Tulsa Public Schools:
The Tulsa school board on Monday approved a preliminary budget that reduces previously proposed cuts by half and restores 42 of the 142 previously eliminated teacher positions.
In the spring, district leaders had identified $13 million in spending cuts in anticipation of a state funding loss of $13.5 million to $20 million. But officials dialed back the spending cuts to $6.75 million when asking the school board to approve a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017.
“The (state funding) reduction is far less than we anticipated,” said TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams. “Still, knowing the outlook for the state economy, it wouldn’t have been prudent for us to build back everything into our budget.”
Because the state Legislature did not pass a fiscal year 2017 budget until late May, school district leaders across the state planned for their new budgets and staffing levels on estimates and guesses about how much of the $1.3 billion state budget shortfall would be passed along to local schools.
Instead of reducing the number of teaching positions by 142, TPS will only have to cut 100. They’re only cutting $6.75 million out of the budget for the 2016-17 school year. Aren’t these ridiculous statements? The truth is that this is the position most Oklahoma districts find themselves in right now.
Public education funding is still lower than it was in 2010. Teachers still haven’t had raises in 10 years. Then again, it’s only ten years, right. And the funding is flat, right? That’s another word I’m tired of saying – flat. It’s lost all meaning.
We’ve all been cutting for months. Three percent here. Four percent here. A change in motor vehicle collections everywhere. The Doerflinger Kerfuffle. A cushion from the Rainy Day Fund, which was nice. Then the loss of textbook money – another hit. One last late revenue failure, just for good measure.
And now, the state finds 100 million that it forgot to allocate. Hmm. What to do?
If trends hold and Oklahoma ends the fiscal year with a $100 million budget surplus, two main scenarios have emerged for how the money would be allocated.
“If funds are available to return, Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services can return funds equally to all agencies, or the Legislature and governor can allocate funds at their discretion via a special legislative session,” OMES Director Preston Doerflinger said Monday.
Shelly Paulk, deputy budget director, said the general revenue fund surplus stands at $166.6 million through 11 months and that even assuming revenue declines in June, a surplus topping $100 million is likely.
State officials made across-the-board spending cuts of 3 percent in December and 4 percent in March because revenues weren’t keeping up with expenditures amid the oil industry decline. The surplus occurred because the March cut was apparently larger than needed.
Maybe they should hold it. After all, it’s only $100 million or so. Seriously, though, I don’t know which of these two choices is preferable. I also don’t know how either option would work.
In Scenario A – restoring funding by percentage to agencies that received a cut – the funds would just go back according to the level of the cuts. This would hit each state agency pretty equally. Still, I wonder if this would be FY 16 funding or if it would be an early supplemental allocation for FY 17. It’s FY 16 state revenue, so that kind of clouds the issue.
In Scenario B – a special session to distribute those funds – our Legislature reconvenes (after the primaries, of course) to determine which state functions have the greatest needs. This is probably what they should do. Then again, the timing of the funding is a little wonky. Let’s pretend that doesn’t matter though. It’s only a month into the new fiscal year, right? Looking at percentages, higher education had much worse cuts than just about anybody else. Would they restore funding for the agencies that took the hardest hits first?
Special sessions are pricey. In 2013 – the last time the governor called for one – taxpayers spent only $30,000 per day. As then Representative Joe Dorman said then:
Because we did not do our job the first time, we’re wasting taxpayer money, and we’re back here.
I know it’s frustrating to those making the budget that we are seeing such volatility in the factors that impact state revenue. I’m not critical about the $100 million or so that suddenly needs to be disbursed. They’re throwing darts at a moving dartboard. Besides, it’s only about 1.4% of the funds available to the Legislature to appropriate.
None of that is really the point, though. The jobs that hang in the balance, the programs that face elimination, the uncertainty that shadows all of us right now – all of it is because we love our tax cuts more than we love our students, our communities, and our infrastructure. We love the companies that receive tax credits more than the people who work for them. And that’s disgraceful.
One more thing: if you think that showing up to vote next week doesn’t matter because you’re only one vote, think again. Plenty of people will be showing up to vote against public education, and they’ll be coming one at a time, just like you. We just need our ones to outnumber theirs.
Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections
Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.
10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
This one time, at EdCamp, my friend Dallas used a word that really shocked me. No, it wasn’t one of those words. It was January 30 of this year – the first time I had ever met the person behind the social media powerhouse that is Blue Cereal Education. We had attended some breakout sessions in the morning, and as we settled in for a nice lunch among friends, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister took the microphone to speak to us.
She gave her preview of the upcoming (now completed) legislative session – her goals, priorities, and hopes. She talked about her first year in office. She was relaxed and comfortable. Then she asked if we had questions. Immediately, Dallas shot his hand into the air, and Joy – oh, Joy – called on him. “Yes, Dallas?”
“Why do they hate us?” he exclaimed, plaintively, and loudly.
I can’t say that I saw Joy’s face in that moment. I was too busy facepalming. When I finally made eye contact with Dallas, and then Scott Haselwood, and finally Joy, and after the laughter in the room had stopped, she responded. “They don’t hate us, Dallas.” At that moment, she made a teacher face. That may have been when I really believed she was one of us. It was that look with the eyes and forehead pointed down, and the mouth pursed as if to hold back certain other words. It was a look with a message. Certainly, it was amusement.
Joy went on to explain the nuances of working within the framework of our system of government and how what the legislature is sometimes willing to do doesn’t align with what the governor is willing to do and that there are these outside entities who influence policy. It was a good answer. It was a necessary answer. And I believe it was sincere.
I also believe Dallas is onto something. There are people and groups out there who hate us. If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, let me take you back to 1993. I hadn’t even started teaching yet.
I lived in south Tulsa during the year I spent teaching in Muskogee. It meant a fairly long and scenic commute, but I really didn’t mind. I even signed on with a temp agency so I could do odd jobs before the year started and on some breaks. I had a few short stints in factories, and I worked security (all 5’ 8” of me) during the NAIA basketball tournament at Oral Roberts University. On one very random night, I also worked as a busboy at a banquet, also at ORU.
I don’t remember the name of the organization, but I can tell you their purpose. These were people gathered to talk about why public school was bad. I didn’t think much of it at first. I just thought I was among private school patrons. I’ve never really had a problem with private schools. It just wasn’t my background or experience. I felt then, as I do now, that public school dollars should not be spent in private schools. I was 22 and very naïve, but I knew with certainty was that public and private schools had very different purposes. We exist to teach all the children we get. They exist to teach the kids who apply and gain acceptance.
I’m clumsy at times. You might say I’m a spiller. Overall, I did pretty well though, moving from table to table, filling waters and iced teas. I don’t know who the speaker was, but I remember what she said, more or less. Public schools will teach your children to be gay, and they’re mired in the social experiment of multi-culturalism. The first part was absurd. I grew up in Norman, for goodness’ sake, and I don’t remember anybody teaching us to be gay. Then again, I didn’t have a lot of room in my schedule for electives. Rigor, and all.
The other part – the attack on multi-culturalism – reeked of Pat Buchannan’s failed primary challenge of President Bush the previous year. I’ve never understood this. Our country is proudly an amalgam of multiple cultures. We are not all the same.
The speaker suggested that those who could should pull their children out of public schools and put them in private schools. The rest should choose homeschooling. And we should spread the message about all the awful things public schools were going to teach the children. Most importantly, we should become more active politically and try to pass a voucher law. This was the first time I had heard the term voucher in relationship to public schools.
This was great blog material, but I still hadn’t taught my first day of middle school or high school English. If I had only known then that decades into the future I would share a modicum of renown with Dallas and Rob Miller and all of my other rebel friends, I would have taken good notes. Maybe I wouldn’t even have apologized to the lady on whom I spilled the water I was pouring.
Knowing who they were – which groups and individuals – really doesn’t matter. They’re still there. They write editorials. They post maniacal rants about the books we teach and the curriculum they don’t understand. They publish tripe from the comfy confines of their think tanks. They even follow dentists into offices for which they completely lack qualification. Rarely are they a united front, but they exist, and they do hate us.
They have a much bigger foothold with obstructionist legislators than they did in 1993. Some of them even hold those offices, for now. They want to lower taxes and starve the beast. They even engage in bizarre conversations on Twitter about lowering taxes to reduce the size of government when all they’ve really done is reduced taxes and let the size of government shrink on its own.
The ones who hold office refuse to make conscious decisions about these reductions. They just let it happen, sometimes as a percentage cut across the board, sometimes as direct hits. You might even say that some get their jollies from it.
Let me be clear, though. I don’t believe that the legislature as a whole hates public education. I just know that some do. Some feel it’s their moral obligation to oppose it. As Kevin Calvey said two years ago:
Let’s face it, public education is a big, black, empty hole and it’s not going to get any better. The rest of the world is hungry and smart and they’re capable. We are the only Western power that doesn’t allow parental choice for schools. The best thing for public education in Oklahoma is more private schools with monies allocated by the Legislature.
On the other hand, Calvey has also threatened to set himself on fire. So there’s that.
This is why we must vote. We can’t let another election cycle pass in which we let those who hate us strengthen their position. I’ve heard that public education is the strongest lobby at the Capitol – from someone who ostensibly likes us but in all honesty doesn’t. It’s time to be the strongest voting bloc in the state, too.
If that’s not enough to motivate you, I’ll give you this in closing. Representative Richard Morrissette, one of 30 Democrats in the House, claims that the state superintendent with whom we parted ways in 2014 is behind some of the dark money supporting selected candidates.
It’s at the 5:30 point of the video clip in the link above.
I can’t tell you whether or not his claim is true. You know if I had proof, I’d be throwing it in your face. I’m a lot of things, but subtle isn’t one of them.
It’s not a single party that hates us. It’s not even the majority of a single party. It’s a significant enough group though, that when the stars align just right, we see more bad policy and less education funding. I’m not naïve anymore. Nor am I jaded. I just have my eyes open, as we all should.