Today, thousands of my colleagues walked out of their classrooms and building to descended on the state capital. Nothing was accomplished in either chamber. The House of Representatives finished their work in the early afternoon and adjourned for the day, and voting down a possible revenue stream in the process.
So now what? Educators have tried single day rallies before, only to have zero effect on the legislative process. Today was not so much the salary issue, that has been handled, kind of. Veteran teachers with lots of experience (over 10 years) will receive a very meaningful and long overdue pay raise in the fall. New teachers, not so much. But salary is only part of the problem.
For over a decade, the legislature has been on a well documented run of cutting funding for both K-12 schools and higher education. With more students than ever before in the the K-12 system, and with over 2,000 emergency certified teachers on the payroll, something needs to be done. Not just a teacher raise. Textbooks need to be purchased. Technology needs to be acquired. Educators who retire need to be replaced. Busses need to be driven. Cafeteria food needs to be prepared. Media centers have books and spaced that need to be monitored. Counselors need to counsel. Music teachers need to teach music. Art teachers need to raise up artists. Drama teachers need to develop our next generation of actors and actresses. None of this can happen with the funding that was recently passed.
One of the items that is a critical need for almost every district is more classroom teachers. There is a teacher shortage across our nation right now, so how do we entice teachers to come to Oklahoma? What can we say about teaching in Oklahoma that can help to lesson our shortage, even at the expense of other states? Texas and Arkansas have benefitted from an outflow of teachers from Oklahoma, how do we get some of those educators back? A quick glance around the nation shows that teachers are stirring in their unrest – West Virginia teachers staged a nine day walkout, Kentucky rallied at their capital today, and Arizona educators are watching all of this and considering what they will resolve their issues.
So now what? It’s not about the salary increase. And nothing happened legislatively today. Nothing.
That was today.
Tomorrow is another day, one more day to have our voices heard. And the next day is another day to have our voices heard. And the next. And the next. As educators, teachers and administrators, can work together to support each other through this difficult season. It will take the patience and encouragement from all involved to move education forward. Given how education has been treated from the legislature, we need prepare for that and be at the capital every day until we get something meaningful.
Send a message to our elected officials, that all of us – superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, support personnel, students, communities – all of us should be in contact with our leaders. All of us should be at the capital if possible. It will take all of us working in concert to overcome a decade of neglect and inadequate funding.
If that means that school will need to be out for a few days, then that is what happens. We should not be having celebratory, historic funding bills for Oklahoma education. This should be a frequent occurrence, because as a state we value education for all of our children.