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.