Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law a nasty, petty little bill targeting the professional organizations of state teachers that tells the true story of how she feels about state educators.
The story is that she doesn’t want teachers to have a voice in education in this state, which faces a massive teacher shortage—1,000 and counting—and has cut education funding by approximately 24 percent since 2008, the most in the nation. Teachers here make some of the lowest salaries in the nation, but their so-called “unions” are so mighty and powerful they need to be punished, right?
Fallin couldn’t even attend the education rally last Monday at the state Capitol, but she did find time on Thursday to sign into law House Bill 1749. The bill prohibits state agencies from deducting membership dues from employees for professional organizations. The bill is directly targeted at what the bill’s supporters call Oklahoma teacher “unions,” particularly the Oklahoma Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
The bill’s strongest supporters claim the state shouldn’t be helping the interests of unions that bargain for better pay and benefits.
Here are the fallacies of the argument: (1) There is no extra cost associated with deducting money from employees’ paychecks. Virtually all institutions and companies deduct various amounts of taxes, insurance costs, charity donations and other monies from paychecks. Once the deduction is established, it’s simply a matter of clicking a computer key to generate a paycheck. The point is that the dues deductions are not costing taxpayers any extra money for teachers’ paychecks. (2) If OEA and AFT are such powerful bargaining unions, then why do our public teachers’ salaries here consistently rank as the lowest 49th or 48th in the nation? The fact is that these two professional organizations don’t actually do much bargaining at all, except to call attention to how education funding overall in the state is perhaps the most inadequate in the nation taking into account all the circumstances and the state’s historical record.
It’s difficult not to see this pettiness by Fallin and the state’s lawmakers as the lingering effect of the crushing 2010 defeat of State Question 744, which would have required the state to fund education at the regional average. Democrat and former Gov. Brad Henry and even the Oklahoma Policy Institute, often cited as a left-leaning think tank by The Oklahoman editorial board, joined with the right-wing in Oklahoma, and the question was defeated with more than 80 percent of the vote.
Henry’s barrage of television “just-say-no” advertisements and OKPolicy’s relentless arguments against “average” funding for education were celebrated by the right-wing here and used as their main weapon in defeating the measure by such a lopsided margin. It’s important to remember here that the “just-say-no” language was made famous by the late right-winger and former President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy in their campaign against drug abuse.
That lopsided vote margin on SQ 744 made it clear to the right-wing that they can basically do what they want to do when it comes education. It completely took away any agency or voice educators might have when it comes to establishing policy. Any serious attempt to really raise teacher salaries here will be met with the same cacophony of voices. The right-wing won’t even have to do anything. They can just allow Democrats like Henry and the think tank OKPolicy to do their dirty work.
In the end, this bill might not do much on the practical level in terms of membership dues for OEA and AFT, but it does create animosity and discourages teachers from working here. Why teach in Oklahoma when you can go to another state and make much more money and get treated with respect?
Here in Oklahoma, our taxpayer-funded colleges train some of the brightest teachers in the world, and then many leave the state and take their talents with them. I want people to “just say no” to that self-defeating cycle, but don’t expect anything to happen soon.
I gave a presentation at the Popular Culture Association National Conference in New Orleans this week nearly 10 years after hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.
I have not been here since 2007, and there is a remarkable physical difference between then and now. I’m sure if I looked hard enough or consulted with locals, I would still find signs of damage but within my “conference bubble” all seems well.
When I’m here in New Orleans, I always think of the song "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" made famous by Louis Armstrong, a New Orleans native. Here's a version of some of the lyrics:
“Miss them moss covered vines, the tall sugar pines
Where mockin' birds used to sing
And I'd like to see that lazy Mississippi
Hurryin' into spring
“Oh the moonlight on the bayou
A creole tune that fills the air
I dream about Magnolias in bloom
And I'm wishin' I was there”
New Orleans is a unique American center for many reasons, including its geographical location, its southern and French history and, of course, its connection to the sordid history of slavery in this country. New Orleans is really the definition of diversity.
I often think of places like New Orleans or New York or even Austin when I hear about the so-called Oklahoma City renaissance. Sure, Oklahoma City has improved its game over the last decade or two, but local leaders, in particular, need to put it in some perspective.
I’m not whining here for the sake of whining, but there’s too much cheerleading and false pride in Oklahoma City that only serves corporate interests. Overall, Oklahoma City remains uptight as well with its antiquated liquor laws, and its knee-jerk initial rejection of anything new. (I’m thinking here of the initial response to the food-truck movement or how long it took to legalize tattooing.) It has a terrible, conservative newspaper that distorts political issues for its out-of-state billionaire owner. It lacks diversity or at least the celebration of diversity found in many other metropolitan cities.
Oklahoma City has potential, and it’s still a young city. But it has a ways to go. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know people might get defensive over this issue, but as I write this in my hotel room I’m glancing out the window looking at barges and tugboats making their way down the Mississippi River. Folks, it’s not the same as looking at the Bricktown Canal from the Chelino’s balcony.
My point is the city leaders, instead of looking how to increase the profits of corporations with taxpayer money, should think in larger terms. They need a lightened-up attitude and seek as much distance as possible from the state’s conservative political morass.
The fact that Gov. Mary Fallin didn’t show up at the education rally at the state Capitol Monday shows her flippant attitude towards a massive decline in education funding here and her belief she and most of her fellow Republican lawmakers think voters will side with them on the issue.
Thousands of educators showed up at the state Capitol to protest a crisis in education that has led to obscenely low teacher salaries, a major teacher shortage and completely inadequate funding of public schools. The numbers are fluid, but there’s no doubt teacher pay ranks near the bottom among the states in the country, either 49th or 48th, there are approximately 1,000 teaching vacancies in Oklahoma and education funding has dropped by nearly 24 percent since 2008.
Conservatives, such as staffers from the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, try to muddle the issues by citing federal monies that go to school, arguing the overall funding issue paints a different picture of the issue, but their ongoing quest to privatize public education renders their arguments extremely suspect even though they are taken seriously by some in the local corporate media here.
As I’ve repeated for years and years, the decline in education funding here is part of a national, conservative movement to starve schools of financial support through direct cuts and attacking and “shaming” schools with predictable results of high-stakes testing at impoverished schools. Private companies often administrate these tests. It’s collusion. Testing companies crave bad results because that leads to even more tests that show bad results. Meanwhile, the state this year is directly attacking teachers personally here by trying to pass a measure that would prohibit the state from taking out dues from their paychecks for their professional organizations. It’s petty, true, but it’s effective in telling teachers this: Get out of Oklahoma. You’re not wanted here. Take your college degrees and commitment to teaching and get out. Move to Texas or Colorado.
A spokesperson for the no-show Fallin, according to a media report, said “ The governor made it clear she was excited to have them at the Capitol.” Note “them.” Why didn’t the spokesperson just use the term “The Other.” Later, in a press release, Fallin said, “Our educators have one of the most difficult and important jobs out there. I appreciate their service to the state and their commitment to our children. It’s great to see so many of them out here today getting involved in education policy.”
Fallin’s language is so generic to me it seems almost passive aggressive. In a psychological sense, it can be read in these more basic terms: Oh, you great people. We just really really like you. We like you even though you know this is just lip service. WE LIKE YOU. We really do. It’s patronizing.
Fallin has pointed to small funding increases in recent years as her commitment to education, but it’s simply not enough money to make any dent in the major crisis the state faces.
I’ll reiterate in a somewhat different way from what I said Monday. This battle has to be won in elections on the local and state level. If that can’t be the case because of prevailing political sentiment and/or a lack of political commitment or victory by education supporters, then if I had school-age children I would look for other education options in other states.
With the state facing a $611 million budget shortfall, which I predict will grow to close to $1 billion before the carnage in the oil patch subsides, all state agencies will be facing cuts under the Republican agenda, which places tax cuts for the wealthy above the future of its students. That will mean more teacher shortages, larger class sizes and shoddy equipment in classrooms.