Oklahoma is in desperate need of some people who know the difference between good public policy and a kick in the head. That’s why we have so many active races for the Legislature, including 13 run-off elections in which many of you can vote tomorrow.
Over the last few months, I’ve seen different friends go back and forth about a person’s civic obligation to vote. I feel strongly that everybody should be as well-informed as possible and show up on election day. That means, of course, that many of you are going to show up and cancel out my selections. That’s fine too. I can live with not getting my way all the time.
It’s also fair to say that I’m more passionate about some races than others. In 2014, I put a lot of effort into writing about why we needed a new State Superintendent. I didn’t pay attention to the Legislature that much. I didn’t even chime in on the governor’s race until late, not that I think my thoughts there made much difference.
I believe one reason many people stay away from the polls is because there are just so many races. In how many have you really researched the history and positions of the candidates? You can look at party registration, but if you’re like me, sometimes it doesn’t matter. I regularly vote for Democrats and Republicans, and I often wish for more choices than that. Few people I know are straight-party voters, or so they say.
In general, I’m looking for people who support public schools. I want to know that the candidates I choose understand that there’s nothing conservative about gutting state services to the point that roads and bridges crumble and schools have to lay off thousands of teachers.
And to be clear, there’s a good chance that if you say things like this…
For years now we have been taught wrong. Our schools teach atheism and call it science. We are taught a revisionist view of American history, erasing our rich Christian heritage. We’re told that Christians don’t belong in the culture.
…then I won’t vote for you. Come to think of it, I hope most Oklahomans – especially public school teachers – wouldn’t vote for somebody with that mindset. It shows ignorance and a complete disrespect for what we do in our schools.
Other than the Blair race, the one that really interests me is one in Tulsa County, SD 25, featuring Lisa Kramer and Joe Newhouse. I can’t find anything damning about Newhouse, and Kramer as said she’d be willing to listen to a voucher proposal if public schools were fully funded (and the vouchers included some real accountability). It’s become one of the nastiest contests in the state, though.
In the end, it’s a sitting school board member who also happens to be an accountant and who hasn’t taken dark money from shady pro-voucher groups. As my friend at Blue Cereal Education put it:
Consider the value of having at least one person in state government who knows how math works, or who may just be old-school enough to think her job is to fix problems and serve constituents rather than cater to entrenched power – even if that power currently resides in the darkest recesses of her own party.
Her party, by the way, controls the House, the Senate, and all statewide elected positions in Oklahoma. In spite of what they insist, they can’t put their heads together and raise teacher salaries. No, the best they can do is pass a bill that makes all of us get lovely new license plates based on a drawing that somebody left on the butcher paper at a mall Garfield’s back in the mid 1990s.
This was a way for the state to raise revenue without raising taxes, since – and again, in spite of one party controlling every major office of the government – they don’t have the votes to do it any other way.
This is what I’m talking about. We get the government we deserve because we don’t get more involved when these people are running.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a reporter from Education Week who came to Oklahoma to talk about the teachers running for the legislature. He met with a few candidates, as well as some of my fellow activists. What I noticed is how our little movement here is not the only one nationally. The reporter summed up our collective influence, though:
When legislators earlier this year tried to pass through a bill that would expand the use of taxpayer funded vouchers, the group flooded their inboxes and lobbied them on Twitter under the hashtag #oklaed. Despite a robo call from Gov. Fallin to voters in support of the bill, it failed.
“What we’ve seen is a strong bipartisan movement in favor in public education. And the voices have been heard by legislators,” said David Blatt, the executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based bipartisan think tank.
No matter what happens tomorrow and in November, #oklaed has made a difference already this year. The magnitude of our impact is still to be determined. The number of educators and concerned parents who get to the polls will determine how strong it is.
We’ve spent countless years and dollars in this state trying to measure educator and school effectiveness. It usually comes down to a menu of test scores. If we have more kids passing than those other guys, then we must be better at our jobs than they are.
If only it were that clean.
Unfortunately, variables such as socio-economic status, student mobility, and a district’s ability to generate funding intervene from time-to-time. The fact that our state hasn’t demonstrably shown support for public education in about 10 years doesn’t help either.
Because of these facts, and the reality that tests don’t even come close to measuring all of the things that matter in a school, Oklahoma issues horribly misleading A-F Report Cards to the public. Some who ascribe to the measure it if it matters mindset are content with this. We’re not. We see schools making an impact that their grade doesn’t showcase. We see it frequently.
Some things are easier to measure, however, like the impact of public education advocacy. We can look at the number of legislative races contested and won, bills filed and passed (or defeated), or the percentage of votes it takes for an incumbent to finish third in her own primary. Those are quantifiable.
We’re about at the point now that we can also start counting the number of editorials written by the Oklahoman attempting to discredit those of us pushing for more candidates who will promote a pro-public education agenda. (We would also count blogs opposing us, but we’ve yet to find one that is coherent.)
The Oklahoman has close ties to the former state superintendent. Their editorial board promotes candidates who favor all forms of school choice. They favor the concept of sending tax dollars to private schools and asking for no accountability in return. They favor more state testing and jeer legislative measures aimed at curbing unnecessary tests. They deride calls for adequate public school funding. They think the school report cards mean something.
To be fair, though, when I reached out to them and asked them to publish opposing thoughts on A-F Report Cards (along with another superintendent), they did.
That said, on more than one occasion, they’ve questioned the honesty and ethics of our group – A Facebook group – Oklahomans for Public Education. Yes, the Oklahoman is now writing editorials about Facebook groups.
Our group is led by a board that includes superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents. We picked candidates to support based on the information available to us. In some cases, we have disagreed. Over 2,000 people like the page, but even among the board members we have differences. Politically, we are all over the place. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all part of the group.
We are not single-issue voters, which is one reason that we’ve identified multiple candidates in several races to support. If five people run for a seat, and they all support public education, we have to count ourselves fortunate. At that point, we definitely have different preferences that probably fall back in part to our individual political leanings.
Nor do we have a singular litmus test. If you’re on social media every day pushing for vouchers and school consolidation, we probably didn’t give you an apple. If you’re currently a classroom teacher, you didn’t automatically get one. I can think of several former or retiring teachers with poor voting records on public education issues.
The term Teacher Caucus, isn’t really accurate. I prefer to think of us and the candidates who have put themselves forward as a Rebel Alliance.
Either way, the grouping consists of candidates we believe to hold the same view of public school students and teachers that we do. In short, we believe that the state has failed to meet its obligation to Oklahoma students, the vast majority of whom are in public schools. Funding and respect are nowhere near the levels that our students and teachers, respectively, deserve. Candidates we believe will change that get apples. Period.
As for me personally, I’ll throw in the kicker that if you come across as a demagogue or a bigot, I’m out. I don’t care how you voted on voucher or testing bills.
And when those candidates and their supporters desperately take to the streets to smear, in particular, parents who support their opponents, we’ll comment on the cowardice this reveals.
Our work isn’t perfect. It also isn’t finished. I guess that means the attacks will just get uglier and uglier. Nevertheless, we will continue trying to raise public awareness about the candidates who face run-off elections. We will continue communicating with and about candidates who are on the ballot in November.
Then when that’s finished, we’ll keep working, individually and in groups, with the newly seated Legislature. We’re all grown ups here. I can accept that some of the candidates I prefer will win and that some will lose.
Without getting into the details, I’ve seen some blog and Facebook posts questioning the group of legislative candidates loosely called the Teacher Caucus. Maybe we can have this conversation in the light of day.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City along with State Representative David Perryman. Among the things we’ll be discussing will be the emphasis on pro-education candidates. Surely we can have a civil, constructive conversation, right?