There’s little doubt in my mind that public education here will face a continued assault by the right-wing and especially after the electoral-college election of Donald Trump, the Russian-backed candidate soon to be the leader of the so-called free, democratic world.
Recent public comments by Oklahoma’s Gov. Mary Fallin and commentary in The Oklahoman show absolutely no one in the Oklahoma Republican-dominated government will be held accountable for the fact the state has cut public education on the K-12 level the most of any state in the nation since 2008 and pays its teachers the lowest or next to the lowest salaries in the nation.
The facts are clear. Low teacher salaries have created a state exodus of teachers here, and the overall cuts to education have devastated the public education system, forcing some school districts to institute four-day-a-week schedules instead of increasing class sizes to unmanageable levels. Here’s another fact as well as almost an afterthought: Funding to higher education was cut nearly 16 percent this current budget year by a legislature with Republican super majorities. Those super majorities increased in the recent election.
Fallin, according to a recent media report (see above), argues schools should “step up” when it comes to reducing the days in a school week because, well, it’s bad for economic development in terms of our public appearance. In what has to be one of the most disingenuous comments of her tenure, Fallin seems to blame schools for what the right-wing has wrought here in its detest for public education.
The question is fairly basic. Do schools fire teachers and increase class sizes or do they reduce utility and day-to-day operating costs and ensure public school students have a decent experience when they DO get to attend school? Some school districts—not many—chose to go with a four-day-a-week schedule. It’s understandable, not ideal. It’s a tragedy at some level, but it’s the best decision.
Fallin, of course, claims she’s worried about economic development while advancing the usual right-wing agenda of tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy, which have been implemented here, putting children at risk. Now she seems to argue that schools should “step up”—her words—by firing more teachers and increasing class sizes so some mythical business executive will think Oklahoma has a “normal” public school system. This presumes leaders of businesses—big and small—are fairly stupid and don’t get it that Oklahoma funds its schools and colleges at incredibly low levels.
The Oklahoman, meanwhile, published a somewhat innocuous but snarky post-election commentary that argued it’s nothing unusual that educators have served in the legislature. This was in response to the so-called “teacher caucus” movement here, which tried to get more educators elected to office. That movement met with mixed, perhaps disappointing results. The fact that Republican super majorities were extended—even though some of the new legislators identified as teacher-friendly candidates—renders the whole point moot, anyway.
Yet The Oklahoman had to make this point:
Discussions are underway to craft school reform and school funding measures next year, and lawmakers with education backgrounds will no doubt be consulted — just as they have always been. That doesn’t mean the final result will line up with the wish list of left-leaning political activists.
Increased teacher salaries and funding for all our education systems should be on any intelligent person’s “wish list.” Note the use of the term “left-leaning political activists” as if anyone on the left now has a sliver of a voice in a place that has resigned itself to hundreds of earthquakes a year generated by the fracking deployed by oil and gas companies with all those juicy tax breaks, a place that has resigned itself to the four-day school week because the legislature and Fallin won’t act not because schools won’t “step up.”
Meanwhile, Trump, with much help from the Russian government and a compliant U.S. media breathlessly reporting those Clinton email leaks, will soon assume control of the country’s government and lead in a manner no one can remotely predict, and that probably includes Trump himself, but I assure you it will not be with an agenda to improve funding for public education. He will enjoy Republican majorities in the House and Senate and an increasingly complacent media—this includes media outlets such as The New York Times—normalizing what he now says and, undoubtedly, what he’s going to do when he takes control.
There’s more important things for people to worry about than funding for public education in a piddling, right-wing flyover state right now. I realize that, but it still matters, and it’s still wrong.