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, http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/education/oklahoma-ranks-th-in-education-week-s-annual-education-quality/

[2] “Oklahoma’s budget shortfall grows to $1.3 billion,” last modified February 11th, 2016, http://kfor.com/2016/02/11/officials-oklahomas-budget-shortfall-grows-to-1-3-billion/

[3] Teacher pay raise proposals probably going nowhere this session,” last modified February 18th, 2016, http://okpolicy.org/teacher-pay-raise-proposals-probably-going-nowhere-session/

[4] “Bill Information for SB 1187,” last modified March 3rd, 2016, http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=sb%201187

[5] “Bill Information for SB 1749,” last modified April 4th, 2015, http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=hb1749

[6] “Educators furious over plan to cap health care benefits in pay raise proposal,” last modified May 12th, 2016, http://kfor.com/2016/05/12/house-leaders-propose-plan-to-cap-health-benefits-for-oklahoma-teachers/

[7] Teacher pay raise proposals probably going nowhere this session,” last modified February 18th, 2016, http://okpolicy.org/teacher-pay-raise-proposals-probably-going-nowhere-session/

[8] Raises For OK Teachers Would Help Attract, Retain Educations,” last modified November 2nd, 2015, http://www.news9.com/story/30413303/new-study-raises-for-ok-teachers-would-help-attract-retain-educators

[9] “Educators rally at the Capitol to stand up for public education funding,” March 15th, 2016, http://kfor.com/2016/03/15/educators-rally-at-the-capitol-to-stand-up-for-public-education-funding/

[10] “Many Oklahoma educators plan to run for Legislature,” last modified April 13th, 2016, http://newsok.com/article/5491321