“Gov. Mary Fallin, who said she will sign the bill, said she wasn’t sure if a walkout would still happen.
“That’ll be up to the teachers, but I hope they can come up here and say ‘thank you’ on Monday and go back to the classrooms,” Fallin said.”
Whether or not you have been riding the roller coaster with Oklahoma State Legislators and our governor this budget making season, please note that I will not be visiting the Capitol on April 2nd to merely say “thank you” and then “go back to the classroom” as our governor asked of me with so much class.
Yes, our legislators did create a plan to start to raise teacher and support staff pay. Yes, I begrudgingly admit it did feel historic as many people noted though working to fund education and pay teachers should not be historic. Yes, it does show bipartisanship and the ability to compromise which feels like a lost art up there with speaking Latin, building pyramids, and burnishing your clay teapot. Yes, I am grateful our legislators began the process of starting to value education in our state. But, this is not enough.
Your efforts to increase teacher pay are appreciated, but this issue encompasses more than my compensation as an educator. You see, there is no dollar amount that will provide me with a fair income. There is no pay scale that will ever match the value I and so many other teachers bring to the classroom. The majority of educators bring a value, talent and skill set to the classroom and school community that no amount of money can match. Being fairly compensated with respectable pay, for example not ranked the lowest in teacher pay, is always welcome and necessary to keeping the best of the best in our state working directly with children. Paying educators a livable wage can begin to address the talent drain our state faces year after year.
But legislators and aforementioned governor Fallin, what this all boils down to for me – you do not and did not fund education. You put a band-aid on a gaping wound. A wound that at best needs some serious stitches if not surgery to even begin to heal.
According to OK Policy, our state procured “the deepest cuts to school funding in the nation since the start of the recession in 2008.” That fact alone is enough to produce outrage. But even more ludicrous, while the state continues to maim education funding the number of students in our state grows and teachers are leaving at crisis level numbers. We spend about $1,700 less per pupil than neighboring states.
So, yes I would love a livable wage for the job I choose and love to do. But the reason you will see me at the Capitol on Monday is not the hope that my pay stub will read something that qualifies me for a new tax bracket.
I will be there for my students, their families, the community I work with daily that has embraced me, and the future of our state.
I will be there for the children and their families who are unable to qualify for a special placement in a high needs program because there are no more open spots in such placements due to lack of funding. Even though we all know the regular classroom is not going to meet their child’s needs. Our budget currently does not allow us to serve all students and meet their individual needs.
I will be there for the 56 now third grade students I co-taught last year. That’s right, last year my co-teacher and I each had twenty-eight children on our individual rosters. That’s a total of fifty-six individual stories to know. Fifty-six laughs to memorize. Fifty-six learning styles to unpack. Fifty-six temperaments to learn and manage. Fifty-six individuals to encourage and guide to their own unique potential. And while most days there were two adults, off the top of my head I can recount more than a few times where one of us had all fifty-six children alone. Again, due to a lack of resources and funding.
You will see me at the Capitol on Monday to stand up for the programs that have all but disappeared due to lack of funding. Enrichment, fine arts, music, poetry, science, robotics, easily accessible libraries, after school clubs, counselors, sports, and more no longer appear in many of our public schools because we do not have the funds.
My building has incredible enrichment teachers who unbeknownst to me somehow get very large groups of children to play basketball, put on musical performances, and create artwork that stunningly fills our halls. But I see them carrying in their bags full of supplies they bought that weekend. I watch as they carefully laminate sheets of music because they know paper will be rationed and there won’t be more toner towards the end of the year. I see them patching deflated balls that resemble something “the Beast” from The Sandlot tore up in hopes that they’ll bounce in a game for one more year.
You will see me at the Capitol because to me these are not abstract numbers someone posts online or in a spreadsheet. To me, these are faces and stories I know and love. I see the families, siblings and the community I have invested in and that has invested in me for the last ten years.
Each dollar amount we allow our legislators to remove from education is another barrier my students and many more will have to overcome. Do not get me wrong they can and will overcome, but by not funding education we are systemically impeding an entire generation of Oklahoman’s from a high quality education. Each time we do not prioritize a sustainable long term plan to fund education we lose talented teachers who raise the bar for everyone they work with. When we do not fund education and instead fund prisons and allow large corporations to run our state, we rob ourselves of our own potential as a whole.
Y’all, if we invest in education we create an educated workforce. If we have an educated workforce we attract and retain businesses. If we attract and retain businesses, our economy improves and grows. If our economy improves and grows it diversifies. A diverse economy is a healthy economy. We all want a healthy economy. And while yes my syllogism may seem overly simple, I believe it is this simple. Invest in education.
Thank you for reading. I’ll see you at the Capitol Monday morning for a truly historic moment.