As the Oklahoma Legislature prepares to gut education through draconian tax cuts, it’s making anti-teacher and anti-intellectual statements that could have lasting, perhaps permanent, negative effects in the state.
A House panel has killed a bill that would restore $5,000 annual stipends to teachers who are nationally certified. A bill restoring the stipends, which were suspended in the recent economic downturn, passed the Senate, but the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education defeated the measure.
What message does that send to current and aspiring teachers in Oklahoma, even if the stipends are eventually restored? The stipends were a promise made by state leaders. Once the downturn hit, however, the stipends were suspended. But the economy has improved considerably since then, and now is the time Oklahoma leaders make good on their promise again.
The stipends serve as motivation for teachers to improve their performance, and consequently they improve student performance as well.
The House has also passed HB 1551, sponsored by controversial state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, that would bring creationist ideas, under the guise of the faux science, intelligent design, into the state’s public schools science classroom. The bill would essentially require teaching the so-called strengths and weaknesses of scientific concepts, such as evolution and global warming. This is a disingenuous bill, which aims to call into question the scientific method used throughout the industrial world. It would damage our students’ academic abilities, diminish medical research here and ultimately hurt the overall economy.
A leading science organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recently issued a letter protesting the bill. The organization’s leader, Alan I. Leshner, “reaffirmed that there is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution.”
Several Oklahoma organizations also opposed the bill, which is now pending in a Senate committee.
Meanwhile, plans to drastically cut the income tax next year from 5.25 to 2.5 percent, and then eliminate it entirely in subsequent years, are making their way through the legislature. The cuts, as now proposed, would almost certainly lead to more cuts in education and all state services. In her state of the state address, Gov. Mary Fallin endorsed cutting the income tax.
The message the legislature is sending is clear: Education funding and promises to teachers are not a priority in Oklahoma and intellectual rigor in our schools is not important.
The future of educational systems in Oklahoma is bleak at the moment. Those who oppose the legislature’s actions, including educational leaders throughout the state, need to stand up right now or they will be as much to blame as anyone for the state’s intellectual demise. Now is not the time to acquiesce and wait out the current political environment.