Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Support of the Teacher's Rally!

Source: OK Policy Institute

I don’t think anyone in Oklahoma challenges the notion that education is essential in the 21st century global economy.  Everything is specialized in the world today.  I couldn't even begin to try to fix my pickup if it broke down because today’s mechanics have to plug my truck into a computer to determine what needs to be repaired. Plumbers, electricians, and heat & air technicians must have industry certification and a license. Industry certification requires training at a technical school, and a license requires passing a test and demonstrating a specific set of skills.  No wonder some of them charge $89.50 an hour for a service call!  Doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, and physical therapists are all professions requiring advanced college degrees.  The one thing all these jobs and professions have in common is the need for teachers.  Someone has to have not only the required knowledge, but they must also possess the art of teaching those skills.  Teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible. 

Many of you may have heard that teachers are planning a rally at the capitol on March 31st.  To be clear, this is not a protest, it is a rally.  A protest indicates a strong objection to a situation.  This is a rally because teachers from all over the state will come together to support our legislators in making our schools the best schools possible.  Teachers, parents, grandparents, business owners, and community leaders will rally to support measures having a positive impact on the education of our children.  One reason we need support for legislation which positively impacts schools is due to the above graphic showing continued erosion of funding for public education. 

Specifically, public schools in the state of Oklahoma have $204 Million less dollars and 34,000 more students. In laymen’s terms, the amount of dollars the state gives our school per student is in steady decline! The state of Oklahoma is saying educating a child in 2014 is roughly $400 per weighted student less important than in 2008.  This is why teachers feel they have been given no other choice than to rally in support of additional funding for their classroom.  This is why it should matter to Oklahoma parents.  Their kids are being subjected to a discount education!  Since 2008, Oklahoma experienced the nation’s 3rd highest cuts to educational spending when 2014 has the largest economy in state history.  This transcends logic!  Why is it that more students are enrolling, costs are continuing to rise, yet the state’s commitments to public schools are continuing to decline?   Each of the last 2 years the state has DECREASED the money given to schools based on enrollment midway through the year!  This is the first time in the history of midterm adjustment that cuts have occurred at midterm 2 years in a row. The state gives an allocation for schools to budget in July when teachers are hired and resources are purchased, but then tells schools they were wrong and takes back some of that money. 

One of the biggest factors affecting our schools is the lack of qualified teachers available for us to hire.  There is a major teacher shortage in Oklahoma.  There could be any number of reasons as to why fewer and fewer college students are choosing teaching as a profession:  the over reliance on high stakes testing, a decline in teacher autonomy, toxic culture, larger class sizes, having fewer and fewer resources available, and/or the lack of pay might be why we are nearing a catastrophic teacher shortage.  It should be the goal of every parent to ensure their child sits in a classroom with only the very best teachers.  If our best college students are deciding to avoid teaching as a profession for any reason, isn’t that a detriment to our children?  For this very reason, teachers believe they have no choice but to rally in support of educational conditions that drastically effect the quality of both the teacher in the classroom and the school in which they work.

Almost every reason to support a teacher rally can be traced back to a declining educational budget.  I only bring up the state budget because it is insulting to educators.  This continued erosion of state support for public schools, once again, comes at the expense of the teacher.  Teachers haven’t had a pay raise since  2005.  Support employees shouldn't have to work a second job to earn a living wage.  For perspective, in 2008 gas was $1.78 a gallon and minimum wage was $5.25 per hour.  In 2014 gas is $3.00 per gallon (at the station on the corner) and minimum wage is $7.25.  So gas has nearly doubled and the cost of nearly everything else has increased drastically.  It doesn't matter if it is movie tickets, the price of a McDonald’s value meal, or the groceries at the store.  Everything has increased except the salaries of people who educate our children.  Our children should have the best bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher’s aides, and classroom teachers.  Our children should attend classrooms that are clean, safe, and full of the resources they need to learn.  Our children shouldn't have to be crammed in classrooms with 29 other students or share textbooks that are 10 years old.  Our children shouldn't be subjected to a high stakes test that will either label them as a failure or deny them a high school diploma. These are the reasons why teachers have decided to rally in support of improved educational conditions for their students.