Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Despite GOP Rhetoric No Raises For Oklahoma Teachers

Was the call among some Republican legislators for teacher raises just a sheer political calculation that made it seemed like they cared when they really knew an increase in pay for educators was never going to happen? It sure seems so now.

About a month ago, I wrote on Okie Funk:

The lack of an agreement on a funding plan may well mean at least some legislators want to be perceived as trying to fight for teacher raises when, in fact, they know that given the dire budget situation there’s no way any significant increase is possible.

So my earlier speculation was correct. There were no raises for teachers in the budget despite calls from Gov. Mary Fallin and House Speaker Charles McCall, both Republicans. In fact, back in April, House Republicans issued a statement that contained this gem of a quote from McCall that made it seemed like teacher raises were a foregone conclusion:

We are including in our budget proposal a line item to fund the first year of the teacher pay raise plan, just as we promised we would do. Our members heard from citizens over and over on the doorstep that a teacher pay raise was a priority of theirs, and it has been one of our top priorities for our members this entire session. The House and the Senate Appropriations Committee have both passed a bipartisan and realistic teacher pay plan that is awaiting the governor’s signature, and the House intends to fund the raise in our budget and send it to the Senate.

Well, that didn’t work out, did it? The lack of any raises for teachers in the budget is a real tragedy for Oklahoma. Teacher pay here ranks 48th in the nation, and teachers are leaving Oklahoma for other states that pay more and offer better benefits. Class sizes are growing, some schools have gone to a four-day week schedule and the state still has a college graduation rate that is significantly lower than the national average. Oh yeah, higher education funding was cut this coming fiscal year by 6.1 percent. Last year, it was cut by 16 percent.

The lack of investment in education here is not a byproduct of the fracking bust and low oil prices. It’s an ongoing Republican strategy to starve schools of needed funding and then claim them “failures.” All the Republican rhetoric about teacher raises this legislative session was political calculation. I would even argue that the Republican base in Oklahoma really doesn’t care all that much about teacher raises.

Sure some Republicans care, and Democrats are decisively in favor of teacher raises and have given legislators some heat on the issue, but until state starts voting to diminish the GOP-majority in a significant manner, nothing is going to happen to improve education funding in Oklahoma.

It may seem too obvious to state at this point, but here it is: The current Republican strategy on the national and state level is to decrease public school funding and to privatize educational systems. There’s no getting around the fact that this a partisan issue. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a breaking point for a voter turnaround right now in Oklahoma.

I hate to state the bad news, but everyone should expect more cuts to education funding this coming year and cuts to most state agencies as the state struggles with likely revenue failures.

College Staff Vital To Higher Education Mission

Lost in the most recent asinine Oklahoma spectacle over undocumented students was part of an ultra-conservative legislative group’s proposal that would cut non-instructional jobs at the state’s universities and colleges in an effort to save $328 million.

State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow), who seemed to indicate he was speaking for the group, didn’t note how many “non-essential, non-instructional” employees all that money would add up to, but I think it’s safe to say hundreds if not thousands of people would lose their jobs under the proposal.

It’s a terrible proposal that, if enacted, would seriously devastate college and universities and harm the lives of those people who lose their jobs as well as students, but it was overshadowed in the media by Ritze’s proposal that the state could save $60 million by identifying non-documented students in public schools and turning them over to federal authorities to have them deported.

Other members of the group, Republican Reform Caucus, disavowed Ritze’s deportation proposal, which is unconstitutional and, well, just basically cruel and abusive, but by then Oklahoma had to endure another national media spectacle as news outlets from throughout the country reported the news.

Even in the Trump era there are plenty enough people who think the idea of deporting children and denying them an education is appalling. Even in Oklahoma, the idea was greeted by at least some leading Republicans—Gov. Mary Fallin, for example—as a non-starter. Ritze, who started the entire Ten Commandments monument controversy at the Capitol a while back, has been part of an Okie spectacle before so this is nothing new to him.

So we maybe could have just moved on from the media fiasco after that, as we always do, except for the proposal to cut $328 million from higher education. As you might recall, the legislature and Fallin cut funding to higher education by 16 percent last fiscal year. Although it’s unlikely the group’s proposal to cut that many higher education employees will survive intact, I do think it’s an indication that college and universities can expect another major cut.

The state is facing a $878 million budget shortfall for next fiscal year, but the larger issue is Oklahoma faces a huge budget structural problem, which short-term fixes through cuts or minor revenue increases can’t solve.

I think a case in point of the structural problem would be this proposal to cut hundreds of college and university staffers, who support instructional staff. College staff, from IT specialists to advisors to administrators, do important, meaningful work. What would happen under this doomsday scenario is that instructors would then have to assume much of the staff work, taking their attention away from the classroom and research.That, in turn, would harm students, who pay tuition to attend college.

My point is that the state leaders can’t just lay off hundreds of state workers in higher education and expect there to be no impact on the quality of education or the number of college graduates in the state. Oklahoma, as we all know, lags behind the national average in college graduates. This proposal, or any proposal that significantly cuts higher education, is not feasible for the basic sustainability of our colleges and universities.

More importantly, what would happen next year when there’s nothing left to cut?

Where Is The Plan To Fund Oklahoma Teacher Raises?

Legislators have apparently yet to come to an agreement on how they plan to fund proposed teacher raises and with their session scheduled to end in about a month that’s not an encouraging sign.

NewsOK.com reported that the Oklahoma Senate has not scheduled a hearing on a proposed House bill that would raise teacher salaries by $6,000 spread out over three years. This means it missed a Thursday deadline, although by rule it could still be worked out by the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, according to the NewsOK.com article.

The Oklahoma Legislature, at least in recent years, has been noted for bringing up companion legislation and passing budget deals at the very end of the session, which is a practice that sometimes gives little time for public input on crucial matters impacting the state.

The teacher pay raise, which is a crucial matter given that some teachers here are flocking to other states for better salaries, has been endorsed by a number of Republicans in the GOP-dominated legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin. The sticking point, of course, is that the state faces an $878 million budget shortfall for next fiscal year. How will the raises be funded?

The lack of an agreement on a funding plan may well mean at least some legislators want to be perceived as trying to fight for teacher raises when, in fact, they know that given the dire budget situation there’s no way any significant increase is possible.They want to have it both ways. Even a nominal raise would help, but committing the state to a three-year, $6,000 teacher pay increase without significant tax hikes or additional revenue streams would mean drastic cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Gov. Fallin has suggested the state start taxing a list of services, which has been met with mixed approval. There is a proposal to raise taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 a pack. The Democrats in the legislature have suggested raising taxes on higher incomes and restoring the overall oil and gas production tax to 7 percent. There’s still no real agreement on these issues.

Is it possible that education will face cuts again and teachers will go without raises? It could happen.

Boren Plan Deserves Serious Consideration

Finally, a prominent Oklahoma leader has come up with the barebones of what I view as a workable and perhaps revisable plan to help bolster education funding in the state.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren has proposed a ballot initiative to allow voters to raise the state’s sales tax by one cent to help increase Oklahoma’s dismal funding of education.

Boren, according to news reports, said the increase would raise $615 million a year, and that $378 million could be used to give public school teachers a $5,000 raise. Oklahoma has some of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country and currently faces a major teacher shortage because of it. The state also ranks 49th in the nation in per pupil funding.

Boren said the additional money, among other things, would go to fund incentive pay for teachers, an issue pushed by conservatives. Some of the money would also go to higher education to limit tuition increases.

One of the first and somewhat negative reactions to the proposal came from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa progressive think tank, which argues the tax, if voted into law, would hurt lower income people the most because sales taxes, as we all know, are regressive. OKPolicy did note it supported more funding for education overall, but, as usual, it seems to want to have it both ways when it comes to funding education. It’s for it, but, well, there doesn’t seem any way to get it done. Parse through the lines in this final sentence of its statement about the proposal:

Oklahomans urgently need real tax reform to create a tax system that does not put the greatest burden on those who can least afford it and that collects enough to meet critical needs of Oklahoma families — not just for education but also health care, safe communities, and other public services to ensure a stable economy and strong quality of life.

Translation: We’re probably not going to support this proposal and we know there’s not one iota of chance for “real tax reform” right now in our conservative-dominated state government. Also, education is important, but, well, is it AS important as, say, health care?

Watch for OKPolicy and the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs to join together again to defeat another education funding proposal if Boren goes forward with it.

It seems to me that one obvious solution to the “regressive issue” when it comes to the sales tax increase would be to make it more progressive by exempting lower-income and middle-class income people from all or some of the “education tax” through income-tax credits or rebates. This might complicate the language on the petition drive to put the measure on the ballot, but at least it’s worth considering.

As it stands now, the state faces what will likely be a $1 billion shortfall next fiscal year, and state agency heads are getting informed that they could face cuts in their budgets. This complicates the ballot initiative even further.

If Boren and any type of coalition he helps to put together go forward with the proposal, those circulating the petition would need to collect 65,987 signatures in a 90-day period for the November 2016 ballot.

Sure, I agree that the tax proposal, as it stands, is regressive, but that can be fixed with credits and rebates in the tax code, and, it’s only ONE CENT. Even if the proposal stands as is, I would support it and urge other voters to do the same. We shouldn’t forget that lower-income people would benefit by better schools. This could enable them to raise their incomes. It goes together.

If this is what it takes to improve education funding, then we need to get behind it. We face a real emergency here when it comes to education funding. Let’s do something about it.

Workshop kicks off 'Non-Military Vocations for Youth' project

( – promoted by peacearena)

We are very excited to be hosting a workshop on teaching peace in Oklahoma public schools, and with that workshop kicking off a program to provide alternatives to the pro-war messages and limited options offered to young people by recruiters in schools, malls and just about everywhere they go these days.

Here’s the text of our invitational flyer:

TEACH PEACE

WORKSHOP TO SHOWCASE ALTERNATIVES

TO MILITARY RECRUITMENT,

KICK OFF EDUCATIONAL CAMPAIGN


Monday, 8-10-2009, 6:30 – 9:00 pm

Joy Mennonite Church, 504 16th St, Oklahoma City

(corner of Lincoln and 16th, just south of Capitol)

Please join the Oklahoma Center for Conscience on Monday August 10 for a dynamic workshop on “counter-recruitment” or making sure youth have full information about the military and a wide range of options for constructive public service and caring careers. The recruiters have unprecedented access to students; we want to offer another view, and make sure their right for access to all the facts is honored.

The workshop will kick off a concerted effort in OKC and across the state to make sure our youth do not feel compelled to join the military for lack of other practical options and opportunities.

All are welcome. The workshop is free of charge; donations for our CR outreach is greatly appreciated. If you can’t make the workshop, but would like to donate, see www.centerforconscience.org

For more info, call 405-771-4743 or 405-615-2700. Or visit www.centerforconscience.org

Experienced CR activists from Fort Worth and Austin will share with us the resources and techniques they use to reach young people with an important message about the realities of war and military life. A report from the recent national CR conference will be part of the agenda.

Presenters:

Yvette Richardson is a U. S. Army veteran, who was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas from 1992 – 1997. While serving five years on active duty as a Military Police officer, she deployed to Honduras, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. When not serving as a client advocate for domestic violence victims, she works as a community activist in Fort Worth, Texas. She is co-coordinator of the counter-recruitment organization, Peaceful Vocations, and of CodePink Fort Worth. Yvette holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Diane Wood is a native Texan, a community organizer in areas of social justice for the past 30 years, and a retired Registered Nurse. She is a co-coordinator of Peaceful Vocations, a counter-military recruitment group serving North Texas. She’s been involved in nuclear and anti-war issues, Central American issues, local poverty issues, and a local movement to stop urban gas drilling. Diane led a coalition to establish a shelter in Fort Worth for Central American Refugees, and was the director of the shelter. She recently founded a local coalition, The Texas Christian University Divest and Boycott Israel Campaign.

Hart Viges joined the Army in reaction to the events of 9-11. He was with the 82nd Airborne Div. in 2003 when they invaded Iraq. Shortly after returning in January 2004, he applied and received Conscientious Objector status. Hart is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and works with Nonmilitary Options for Youth.

Below is our press release and a flyer (with the text above) you can print — please feel free to share.

2009 CR Workshop flyer

2009 CR Workshop news release

Peace Education Institute announces 2009 summer camps schedule

( – promoted by DocHoc)

The summer peace camps program offered by The Peace Education Institute is now in its third year of providing young people an opportunity to explore ideas and issues, to expand their knowledge of history, and to develop cooperative, community-building skills that will serve them throughout life.

* Peace Challenge Camp (for rising 5th & 6th graders) will be July 27-31.

This is a residential camp that takes place at St. Francis of the Woods Retreat Center in Coil, OK. It has a maximum enrollment of 16 students. The 5 day camp starts with a visit to the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum and then a trip to St. Francis of the Woods. The kids live in cabins of 4 campers, a teen helper and adult counselor. Throughout the weeks, they live and work together in this small team, including cooking and cleaning their home space. The curriculum focuses on non-violence as the preferred method for problem-solving. There is a lot of art and some team challenges that are scattered around the campus. Guest speakers include people who have experienced violence and have overcome the need for retribution and bitterness.

The cost of this camp is $200.00. Scholarship assistance is available.

* Peace Makers in Action (for rising 9-12 graders)

The High School Peace Camp is located at 3131 N. Penn Ave., Oklahoma City, OK. Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Vegetarian lunches are provided.

This summer, the youths will receive the full 20 hours of nonviolence training provided in the workshop entitled: “Creating a Culture of Peace: Nonviolence for Personal and Social Change.”

There is plenty of time for creativity in this camp. Bands form, photography groups emerge, etc.

The cost of this camp is $100. Scholarship assistance is available.

For details about the camps or to register, visit www.PeaceEducationInstitute.org, or call 405-204-6479.