29 Jul

Oklahoma CD 2: Primary Edition

Oklahoma Republicans have been subjecting our state to a lot recently- passing unconstitutional (and embarrassing) legislation, pillaging limited funds to patch up an ongoing budgetary crisis, four day school weeks. Republican mismanagement of our state is what motivated over 52,000 Oklahomans to vote Democrat in the primary for House District 2 this past Tuesday.[1] Compared to a Republican primary in the same District that saw turnout under 32,000, it’s safe to assume that Oklahomans are making a statement- enough with Republican dysfunction; it’s time to take back our state from rogue legislators and their special interests.

Joshua Harris-Till, a name you’re going to hear more and more, led the way with 31,652 votes, enough to both win the primary and overlap both of his Republican competitors combined. This result is telling; in such an unstable election cycle, Oklahoma voters are spurning the GOP, which has rapidly become the party of Trump and his politics of fear and chaos. Instead, they are turning to a Democratic Party that is alone in offering Oklahoma a chance at responsible stewardship and leadership with a vision.

Our state is teetering dangerously close to the fiscal cliff right now, and the response of our overwhelmingly Republican legislature this past session was to try to waste more taxpayer dollars on a special session to bring back a doomed, vetoed, and unconstitutional bill. Oklahoma lost over $400 million to oil and gas tax breaks last year, meaning that the GOP essentially paid the industry to make our state have more earthquakes than the rest of the continental US combined in 2015.[2][3] We have school districts closing, we have rotting infrastructure, and we have legislators who think a $28.5 million reflecting pool is a good idea.[4]  Oklahomans are tired, and we have a right to be; but instead of giving up, we need to get energized, and get voting.

[1] “Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District,” last modified June 20th, 2016,,_2016

[2] “Oklahoma’s oil and gas tax breaks exceed $400 million per year,” last modified May 5th, 2016,

[3] “Oklahoma has more earthquakes in 2015 than all of continental US combined,” last modified December 31st, 2015,

[4] “State Capitol repairs to cost twice what was allocated,” last modified December 4th, 2015,

27 Jul

Mental Health and Gun Violence

In 1966, the US was in Vietnam, the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, and 14 people were killed by a sniper at the University of Texas in Austin.[1] The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of how “senseless slaughter shocked the entire Nation. Yet, today, 13 months later, Congress has failed to enact a gun control law.” He referenced the 6,500 murders, the 10,000 suicides, the 2,600 accidental deaths that were enabled by lax gun control over those 13 months, saying that “a civilized nation cannot allow this armed terror to continue…the time has come for action.”[2] Fifty years later, fifty people have been killed in Orlando and there is outrage, shock, and learned helplessness.[3] It is learned helplessness to claim that American culture just doesn’t allow for gun control, to despair of ever passing the legislation needed to save some or all of the 89 lives lost to gun violence every day.[4]

Since his election in 2008, President Obama has delivered at least 14 speeches, 14 attempts to bring some sense to a nation reeling from senseless tragedy to senseless tragedy.[5] The first Ft. Hood Shooting, 2009; the Tucson shooting, 2011; the Aurora shooting, 2012: the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting, 2012: the Sandy Hook shooting, 2012; the Washington Navy Yard shooting, 2013; the second Ft. Hood shooting, 2014; the Kansas Jewish community center shooting, 2014; the Charleston church shooting, 2015; the Chattanooga recruiting center shooting, 2015; the Umpqua community college shooting, 2015; the San Bernadino shooting, 2015; the Kalamazoo Uber shooting, 2016; the Orlando nightclub shooting, 2016. Did you make it to the end of that list? Did your eyes glaze a little, did you remember each and every one or did some of the names fail to ring a bell? Do you know how many have died in these 14 incidents alone? 174. That’s a large number, but there are larger ones. 869, for example, the number of people killed in the 126 mass shootings since the University of Texas shooting in 1966.[6]

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Mass shooting, public outrage, short memories- this rinse and repeat cycle must not go on. There is a discussion to be had over mental health- good, let’s have it, and while we’re at it we can discuss how to prevent the mass shootings that are NOT the result of a breakdown in mental healthcare. Mass shootings like those in Orlando or San Bernadino, which were the result of suspected terrorists legally obtaining the weapons used to perpetrate their heinous crimes.[7] It is pure insanity that segments of the GOP would rather levy a ban on all Muslims coming into the US than prevent suspected terrorists (many of whom are not Muslim) from legally obtaining the weapons that have been used to kill hundreds of innocent Americans.[8] The debate over mental health as the cause of mass shootings is misleading, intentionally designed to draw your attention away from the other factors that go into these shootings. Factors like the simple fact that these killers are being enabled by lax gun control laws. The majority of those who go on to commit a mass shooting obtained their guns through legal means, and to suggest that this should just be ignored because fixing mental healthcare will fix everything else is playing with fire, playing with lives, playing with the truth.[9]

The truth is that if mental healthcare were a true concern of those who eloquently defend their second amendment rights via the exploitation of the mentally ill, crudely stereotyping a vulnerable population far more likely to be victimized than to victimize, there have been plenty of chances to push a pro-mental healthcare agenda.[10] 14 times President Obama has been forced to address yet another mass shooting, and 14 times, these champions of mental healthcare have had the chance to show how their rhetoric can be translated into action, into results. This has not happened, and will not happen, because while there is an appalling and absurd willingness to sacrifice the lives of fellow Americans to keep America neck-deep in guns, there is no similar desire to actually address the consequences that such a selfish, lazy, short-sighted mindset produces. Perhaps these champions are fully aware that mental health is not the problem, and simply want to prolong the charade as long as possible before fabricating new excuses. Perhaps they are not champions at all, and are simply reading the teleprompter as they struggle to get through yet another press conference following yet another mass shooting. If this seems harsh, it is no harsher than the reality that we are living in, a reality in which people with mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, are either unable or unwilling to do anything about an epidemic that continues to claim 89 mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters a day.

Mental healthcare is the problem? If so, we have a second problem- those too self-righteous to actually dirty their hands with solving the first problem. Unsurprisingly, useless pontification has served only to continue lining the pockets of the NRA and the gun manufacturers it has allied itself with.[11] However, isn’t it worth it to find out how we can actually curb this violence? There have been chances, many, too many, and mental healthcare has yet to show improvement as our mass shootings continue to increase in frequency and brutality. Let’s actually do something this time, and while we’re at it, let’s actually bother to find out if there is anything else we can be doing to save some of those 89 lives lost every day.

Does gun control scare you? Do you have nightmares about background checks, closed loopholes, suspected terrorists unable to buy hunks of metal used to kill fellow humans and fellow Americans? Because after Orlando, there will be 50 more families that have nightmares about lost children, absent parents, dead loved ones. No more second, fourth, or fourteenth chances, because we need to get this right now or see another mass shooting within months. Time is against us; we’re working with a timeline shortened every time our Republican Congress refuses to allow the CDC to research gun violence; truncated every time bought and paid for legislators fail to pass watered down gun control legislation that would expand online background checks or keep those on the terror watch list from buying guns.[12][13] Please, for the love of God and country and humanity, do not let President Obama make a 15th speech.

[1] “How Little Has Changed on Gun Control Since 1967,” last modified September 15th, 2014,

[2] “Letter to the Senate and the House Urging Enactment of Gun Control Legislation,” last modified September 15th, 1967,

[3] “A night of terror,” last modified June 13th, 2016,

[4] “Key Gun Violence Statistics,” last modified 2016,

[5] “14 mass shootings, 14 speeches: How President Obama has responded,” last modified June 12th, 2016,

[6] “The math of mass shootings,” last modified June 13th, 2016,

[7] “How do you get denied a gun in Florida,” last modified June 14th, 2016,

[8] “Orlando Shooting Reignites Gun Control Debate in Congress,” last modified June 13th, 2016,

[9] “How They Got Their Guns,” last modified June 12th, 2016,

[10] “Study Shows Mentally Ill More Likely to Be Victims,” last modified February 25th, 2014,

[11] “How The Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions Of Dollars To The NRA,” last modified January 16th, 2013,

[12] “Congress Still Limits Health Research on Gun Violence,” last modified December 8th, 2015,

[13] “Senate rejects gun control amendments,” last modified December 3rd, 2015,

25 Jul

Oklahoma Republicans Have Failed Our Students

When I was in high school, I had a history teacher who imparted to me a fascination with America’s global legacy, and an English teacher who fully developed my infatuation with the written word. More than anything else, those two teachers were the driving force behind my graduation and subsequent jump to college. How many Oklahoma students lost the inspirational, motivational encouragement of a dedicated mentor when our public schools started last year short 1,000 teachers?[1] How many more suffered through a drop-off in educational quality when their teacher was replaced by one of the 842 emergency-certified substitutes last year?[2]

An education can be many things- an equalizer, an opportunity, a bridge between students and the world they encounter upon graduation. An education is a precious commodity, one that we as a nation have long since deemed an essential part of the American experience. Our students, our kids, our future doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, engineers, are slowly being deprived of that education by a Republican-controlled Oklahoma legislature that seems to place more importance on corporate welfare for their oil and gas benefactors than the quality of education in our state.[3] How can legislators that style themselves as members of “the part y of business” be so adamantly opposed to funding the single most important ingredient for a healthy economy?[4] Our Oklahoman Republicans waste time passing unconstitutional bills so they can call themselves “pro-life”, while they fail to protect the educational rights of children already born, already here, and already struggling.[5]

It starts, as it always does, with money. Our legislature considers a student’s education to be worth only $8,851 per year- $1,893 less than the regional average.[6] We have a budget deficit of $1.3 billion, a huge number, yet for us to even meet the regional average for education funding we would have to come up with an additional $1.3 billion. That’s what it would take for Oklahoma to simply be middle-of-the-pack. Education funding for FY2016 is less than it was in FY2008, and from 2008 to 2015, Oklahoma students each lost 23.6% of their funding.[7] That’s why, in 2016, in America, in Oklahoma, we have schools operating on four day school weeks.[8] That’s a full day of education, childcare, breakfast, lunch, all lost. 4 day school weeks mean children leave school Thursday afternoon to wait until Monday morning for their next proper meal.[9] They mean that parents already struggling to make ends meet suddenly have to find a way to watch their kids on a work day. When five days of instruction is crammed into four, how much is lost in translation, lost to the inattention that comes naturally with longer days? How much are our students losing?

856 cancelled classes and 842 emergency teaching certificates. Nearly $2,000 less for every student to get the education they both need and deserve, 4 day school weeks. Those are the causes. The effects are the 75% of eighth graders scoring below proficient in Math, the 71% of eighth graders scoring below proficient in Reading, the 39% of Oklahoma college freshmen that need remedial courses.[10][11] In Oklahoma, students who are intelligent and motivated enough to go to college still have to overcome deficiencies in their educational instruction once they get there. Of course, those are the lucky ones, because the 84.8% graduation rate that Oklahoma had in 2013 meant that over 15% of Oklahoma seniors that year failed to graduate.[12] They failed because our legislature failed them, failed each of them 1,893 times. It is very possible many of them failed because Oklahoma Republicans have made a mess of our state academic standards, changing them three times in the last six years, affecting textbooks, tests, and curriculum each time.[13][14] Why are we hamstringing our kids, our economy, and our future like this?

It is clear to any rational observer that Oklahoma’s public schools are in dire need of attention, fiscally and academically. The logical response, the proper response, would be to allocate more funding, increasing education funding until our kids, and by default our state, are no longer being placed at a competitive disadvantage. The response of Oklahoma Republicans has been to push their conservative agenda down our throats. SB 609 was authored by Senator Clark Jolley last year, in an attempt to create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a voucher system that would put 90% of a student’s per capita funding on a credit card to be used for private school tuition[15]. Never mind that school districts have fixed costs- repairs, infrastructural projects, capital expenditures- that don’t decrease when their funding does. Disregard the fact that there are a total of three private schools in the 16 Oklahoma counties where 30% or more of residents lack a high school diploma.[16] This is about school choice, about helping our kids- so say Oklahoma Republicans who fail to care about the 59% of Oklahomans who think education funding is of paramount importance, or the 65% of Oklahomans who oppose private and religious school vouchers.[17]

SB 609 died in committee, as did SB 1187, the “School District Empowerment Act” that would have exempted “empowered” schools from criminal background check requirements, state curriculum requirements, and academic content standards.[18] It’s unclear which bill would have made a worse law, but it is crystal clear that our kids dodged a bullet. They might not dodge the next one, though. Something has to be done, or it will be too late for the hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma students who are in the school bus as it goes over the fiscal cliff. How can you make Oklahoma Republicans put down the gun and take their foot off the gas? Vote for the 30+ educators who are running for state office this year.[19] Vote Democrat.

[1] “The Facts About Oklahoma Education,” last modified Spring 2016,

[2] “Oklahoma teacher shortage: State board approves 157 more emergency certificates,” last modified September 25th, 2015,

[3] “Oklahoma tax incentives for oil and gas continue to be debated,” last modified January 20th, 2015,

[4] “The Effects of Investing in Early Education on Economic Growth,” last modified April 2006,

[5] “Oklahoma lawmakers approve bill to revoke licenses of abortion doctors,” last modified April 29th, 2016,

[6] The Facts About Oklahoma Education”

[7] “Oklahoma continues to lead US for deepest cuts to education,” last modified October 16th, 2014,

[8] “Four-day school week is a consequence of unwillingness to fund public schools,” last modified November 25th, 2015,

[9] “Four-day school weeks,” last modified November 29th, 2015,

[10] Public Education in Oklahoma,” last modified July 2nd, 2015,

[11] “Diploma in Hand, Many College-Bound Students Must Backtrack,” last modified January 4th, 2016,

[12] Public Education in Oklahoma,” last modified July 2nd, 2015,

[13] “The price of Common Core repeal,” last modified August 29th, 2014,

[14] “As Voting Deadline Nears, Battle Over Academic Standards Intensifies,” last modified March 2st, 2016,

[15] “Bill Information for SB 609,” last modified March 15th, 2016,

[16] “List of private schools in Oklahoma,” last modified February 7th, 2016,

[17] “Oklahoma Statewide Interview Schedule,” last modified March 7th, 2015,

[18] “Bill Information for SB 1187,” last modified March 16th, 2016,

[19] Many Oklahoma educators plan to run for Legislature,” last modified April 13th, 2016,

22 Jul

Oklahoma Republicans Have Failed Our Educators, Pt 2

Welcome to the second installment of our series on education, where we examine how the mishandling of the state academic standards has affected teachers and classrooms across the state.  This past session saw the new Oklahoma Academic Standards pass, but the path our legislature took to get there was long, risky, and harmful to students and teachers alike. Stability is an underrated element of a student’s education, oft overlooked but incredibly vital. Continuity is what allows a classroom to function properly, and for the past six years our educators have been robbed of that continuity.

Oklahoma Republicans have played havoc with our state’s academic standards, beginning with the move to Common Core in 2010. Implementing Common Core was expensive process that would take several years to complete, but a change was probably necessary.[1] Necessary because four years later the federal government would decree that Oklahoma’s P.A.S.S (Priority Academic Student Skills) state standards were not rigorous enough- backed up by the 39% of Oklahoma students taking remedial classes in college.[2] After Governor Fallin decided to nix Common Core English and Math standards in 2014, the failure of the P.A.S.S. standards meant that Oklahoma would have to develop new standards to continue receiving a waiver from No Child Left Behind.

The state Board of Education presented the new Oklahoma Academic Standards to the state legislature earlier this year, but not without controversy.[3] The new standards have been endorsed by the Oklahoma Writing Project and the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of Math, among others. They have also drawn criticism from Professors Larry Gray and Sandra Stotsky, referred to by Superintendent Joy Hofmeister as “experts who were instrumental in developing academic standards in other states” only last year.[4]  Achieve, a nationwide educational nonprofit that specializes in evaluating state academic standards and a key player in the development of Common Core, conducted an analysis of the new standards. The organization concluded that the ELA standards “will likely cause confusion for Oklahoma’s teachers because they aren’t sufficiently clear” and that “key concepts are missing across grades” from the Math standards.[5]

After a bizarre saga that included Superintendent Joy Hofmeister vacillating between tacit approval and public condemnation of a resolution approving the new standards with specific revisions, the Oklahoma legislature finally changed the state’s academic standards for the third time in six years.[6] Every time academic standards change, teachers have to develop new curriculum, schools have to buy new textbooks, and students have to prepare for new tests. Adjusting to new academic standards is an arduous process for teachers that should not be undertaken lightly, particularly when there is uncertainty as to how acceptable these standards truly are. By accepting and then rejecting Common Core, Oklahoma Republicans have forced that arduous process on our educators time and time again.

By now, it looks like Oklahoma finally has its new academic standards, providing a small amount of stability that couldn’t be coming at a better time. That’s because some Oklahoma school districts are being forced to move to four day weeks to cut down on expenses, necessary frugality brought on by the steadfast obstinacy of Oklahoma Republicans refusing to fund public education.[7] These four day weeks put even more pressure on our teachers, who now have one less day a week to prepare their students for the standardized testing that can make or break both a teacher’s career and a student’s educational opportunities and job prospects.[8]

Oklahoma teachers are forced to deal with large class sizes, fickle academic standards, forced retirements in higher education and layoffs in public education, and four day school weeks. They have been charged with educating the future of our state, and yet they are continually expected to do more with less. Our teachers are paid poorly, subject to unceasing and unwarranted interference from our legislature, and then denied the funding that their schools and students unequivocally require. How can you stop this? Vote for the 30+ educators running for state office this year.[9] Vote Democrat.


[1] “The price of Common Core repeal,” last modified August 29th, 2014,

[2] “Diploma in Hand, Many College-Bound Students Must Backtrack,” last modified January 4th, 2016,

[3] “Controversial bill dealing with Common Core passes Oklahoma Senate,” last modified April 1st, 2014

[4] Contradictions abound in OK academic standards process,” last modified April 1st, 2016,

[5] “State Superintendent defends new academic standards,” last modified March 20th, 2016,

[6] “Contradictions abound in OK academic standards process,” last modified April 1st, 2016,

[7] “Four-day school week is a consequence of unwillingness to fund public schools,” last modified November 25th, 2015,

[8] Four-day school weeks,” last modified November 29th, 2015,

[9] “Many Oklahoma educators plan to run for Legislature,” last modified April 13th, 2016,

20 Jul

Oklahoma Republicans Have Failed Our Educators, Pt 1

47 states have a better education system than Oklahoma.[1] Thanks in part to a $1.3 billion deficit- that only continues to grow thanks to revenue continually failing to meet previous projections- Oklahoma schools simply aren’t receiving anywhere near the funding that they need to stay solvent.[2] While our legislature is busy offering up public education on a silver platter to a ravenous deficit, Oklahoma Republicans have been hard at work drafting laughably inane proposals to “fix” public education. As Oklahoma Democrats struggle to keep harmful things like vouchers and school district deregulation at bay, Oklahoma education has been suffering even more than usual. Already previously unthinkable solutions have been brought up- ending the semester earlier than planned, switching to four day weeks, and other disastrous ideas. Oklahoma legislators have a responsibility to Oklahoma students, parents, educators, and voters to find a solution to the education funding crisis.

Today we’re taking a look at how Oklahoma Republicans are hurting our educators, both teachers in public schools and professors in higher education. By now most have probably heard that Oklahoma teachers have the third lowest average salary in the nation, but their checkbooks aren’t the only thing Oklahoma Republicans are taking aim at.[3] Enter Senator Clark Jolley, a Republican legislator from Edmond in District 41 who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Jolley is the proud author of the worst education bill of the year in consecutive years, with SB 609 in 2015 and SB 1187 this year.

SB 1187 is the “School District Empowerment Act,” where “empowerment” refers to the ability of school districts that meet a certain criterion- a depressingly low 75% of students demonstrating mastery of state academic standards- to rid themselves of all the tedious, harmful regulations that so afflict public schools.[4] Regulations like the Oklahoma Teacher’s Retirement System, which could suffer drastic consequences from schools opting out, as it relies on contributions from all school districts. Regulations like minimum salary schedules, which might be all that stand between Oklahoma’s status as the 48th state in teacher pay and a rock bottom ranking. Thankfully, SB 1187 died an ignominious death in a House committee, as did SB 609 the year before.

Sadly, HB 1746, authored by Republican Senator Nathan Dahm out of Broken Arrow in District 33, did not die, instead being signed into law by Governor Fallin in 2015.[5] Intended to hurt membership for teacher unions, the bill prohibits school districts from automatically deducting dues for both the Oklahoma Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers from teacher pay checks. That doesn’t keep teachers from joining unions, but it makes it significantly less convenient, something Oklahoma Republicans are counting on to weaken the teacher unions that staunchly oppose their desiccation of public education in Oklahoma that is already well underway.

That desiccation is exemplified by a teacher pay plan that would allow pay raises of $5,000 to $10,000 dollars- funded by cutting health insurance benefits.[6] Apologies for the syntactical chicanery; “pay raises” should have been in quotations from the start. That’s because Oklahoma Republicans have mishandled the budget far too drastically to have any hope of actually offering an honest-to-goodness teacher pay raise, even though Oklahoma already offers $12,750 less than the national average to its teachers.[7]

You read that correctly. That’s 12,750 reasons that a shocking-yet-unsurprising 35% of new teachers in Oklahoma leave their school after the first year.[8] Our educators are under constant threat of siege by their own legislature, yet they care deeply enough to stage rallies at the state Capitol in desperate attempts to procure needed funding.[9] They are rewarded for their supernatural patience, grace, and motivation with a paycheck that is heart-wrenchingly incommensurate with all of the difficulties that come from being an educator in a state that is almost openly antagonistic to the profession. Oklahoma Republicans are rapidly chipping away at the educational bedrock that our state’s economy is built on, harming teachers, students, and everyone else in the process. How can you stop it? Vote for the 30+ educators running for office this year.[10] Vote Democrat.
[1] “Oklahoma ranks 48th,” last modified January 8th, 2015,

[2] “Oklahoma’s budget shortfall grows to $1.3 billion,” last modified February 11th, 2016,

[3] Teacher pay raise proposals probably going nowhere this session,” last modified February 18th, 2016,

[4] “Bill Information for SB 1187,” last modified March 3rd, 2016,

[5] “Bill Information for SB 1749,” last modified April 4th, 2015,

[6] “Educators furious over plan to cap health care benefits in pay raise proposal,” last modified May 12th, 2016,

[7] Teacher pay raise proposals probably going nowhere this session,” last modified February 18th, 2016,

[8] Raises For OK Teachers Would Help Attract, Retain Educations,” last modified November 2nd, 2015,

[9] “Educators rally at the Capitol to stand up for public education funding,” March 15th, 2016,

[10] “Many Oklahoma educators plan to run for Legislature,” last modified April 13th, 2016,