The education rally planned at the State Capitol on March 31 is needed to focus public attention on the crises our public schools are experiencing.
In fact, Oklahoma’s 517 public school districts are now operating under a 2008 funding level and an avalanche of unfunded state and federal mandates, while coping with 40,000 more students in the system.
Public education opponents have complained that the rally was initiated by teacher unions or associations and funded by taxpayers is misguided. In fact, its genesis is from all aspects of public education: from parents, local school board members, administrators, teachers and support staff.
I am personally pleased that so many districts have agreed to adjust their school calendar to allow education personnel this one day to come to the State Capitol to urge lawmakers to do the right thing when it comes to public education.
It is not the fault of educators that the legislative session occurs during the academic year. Without some concessions from school districts it would be impossible for these employees, who are subject to the laws of the legislature, to ever have the opportunity to be citizen lobbyists for their efforts.
A colleague of mine posed the question, “What’s the end game here?” And that is a good question.
If public educators don’t know the end game, then Monday’s event is just a pep rally to give a warm fuzzy to everyone involved.
The end game must be accountability at the Capitol.
Education supporters have three questions that must be answered and in the affirmative by their State Representative and State Senator.
And if their House and Senate member does not answer correctly and vote in accord with their answer he/she must be held accountable in the November election.
In my opinion these three questions are: (1) Will you vote yes on HB 2642 as a live round and send it to the Governor? (2) Will you oppose any state income tax cut this year? (3) Will you oppose any state budget proposal that does not increase per pupil spending?
I support HB2642 because it creates a mechanism that could put up to $575 Million in education over the next decade.
At the same time I will oppose any state income tax cut this year because the current proposals would decrease available revenue by almost $150 million on top of the $170 million budget reduction for FY15. I will oppose any current budget that does not result in increased per pupil funding (currently 44th in the nation).
These issues must be packaged together to move public education forward.
Monday’s education rally is all about holding legislators accountable.
If public education supporters aren’t willing to defeat legislators who say one thing and then vote another way, then we get what we deserve.
And the dismantling of the greatest man-created institution in the history of the world, public education, will continue.
Ben Sherrer is state representative for District 8.