Shortly before the November election, a group called Oklahoma Deserves better appeared out of nowhere and threw nearly $900,000 into a campaign against SQ 779, the penny sales tax. Right after election, they pretty much vanished. Their website isn’t even around anymore. The magic of the Internet preserves some of their work, however.
As you remember, SQ 779 failed. While several legislators have proposed bills to increase teacher pay, there’s still the little mystery of how the state will fund it.
Fortunately, you can peruse the list of donors who contributed this money (all between October 1 and December 31 of 2016). If you know any of these people (or work for any of the companies that contributed), maybe you can ask them about that better plan. I’d love to hear it.
Mid-Del Family and Friends:
Over the last 24 hours, I have heard a wide range of people discuss what Tuesday night’s results mean to them. Specifically, I’ve heard several theories of how to interpret the overwhelming vote of Oklahomans against State Question 779 – the penny sales tax initiative.
It reminds me of the novelty paintings you used to see everywhere – the ones where you’re supposed to blur your eyes until an image comes into focus. Usually it’s a unicorn or a waterfall or a ninja or something. Well, that’s what people tell me. I never can see it.
Almost every theory I’ve heard includes some version of the idea that the people of this state and that our Legislature want to help us. They want to give teachers raises. They want to more fully fund public schools, but not this way. In some versions, the portion of the tax that would fund higher education gets people riled up. Sometimes, the criticism centers on school districts themselves. More often, I hear people frustrated that we’re letting our elected officials off the hook.
I did have a vision before the election results started coming in. It included using whatever proceeds we received from the penny sales tax to fund teacher raises beyond the minimum of $5,000, adding back positions that we’ve cut, and increasing support salaries. Now that’s all gone blurry, and when I try to focus on what to think of Tuesday night, I see nothing with clarity.
I started writing this as a pep talk. I really meant to send you an encouraging message. I hoped to tell you with clarity what this all means. Right now, I just don’t see it. Before the election, I guess I was seeing what I wanted to see in the blur of our political landscape. I was hopeful.
No, I never thought hard-coding a tax increase into the state constitution was the best solution. It’s just the only one that had come to the table. It was all we had. Now I hear renewed support for teacher raises from policy makers across the state. I can’t tell you to look at the picture, though, and see something that I don’t see myself. Maybe it’s there. I just don’t know. If it is, we’ll know within the next six months. If it’s not, well, we’ll know that too.
What I do know is that the day after the election, we had school. We picked up students at the bus stops and got them home. We taught them. We fed them. We cared for their social and emotional needs. Maybe that’s not the image our Legislature and voters see when they look at us. It’s what I see, though.
The same state that voted against the penny sales tax wants to remind us that they appreciate teachers. On some level, I believe them. Maybe that just means I’m looking at the picture, trying to see the unicorn, and listening to the voice over my shoulder insisting that it’s there.
Or maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that sometimes. Maybe there is no state consensus. There’s you, and there’s me, and there’s the people around us. If you teach my child, and I believe you care about my child, then I value you. I appreciate you. If you teach in my building and you help carry me through tough times, then I value you. I appreciate you.
We have over 14,000 students in this district who need us. If you’re disappointed right now, please just remember that it’s not at them. And if you can’t grasp the 14,000, then look at the next student you see. That one student needs at least one of us to make a difference in his/her life. You may be what keeps one student coming back to us just one more day.
I’ll keep fighting for them. I’ll keep fighting for you. Maybe you can’t see the big picture any more clearly than I can, but I hope you can see that.
Those of you who frequently read my blogs know that I often add a song at the end to wrap up my thoughts. For tonight, I thought I’d combine two of my musical loves: U2 and Johnny Cash. We started the school year singing “Sweet Caroline,” and it was #sogood. Tonight, I’ll leave you with “One.”
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.
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.