Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

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.

Resistance

The ongoing Oklahoma budget crisis, which now threatens the very viability of our public schools, was created by conservative ideology and basic malfeasance.

Let’s be clear: The Republican Political Party here has broken the state in ways that may well last for a generation or more. The state has cut funding to public education the most on a percentage basis of any state since 2008. It cut higher education funding last year by nearly 16 percent. Gov. Mary Fallin has refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion, leading to even more health problems in a state with terrible medical access. Conservatives fill up the state prisons while children’s stomachs remain empty.

All this is done under the flawed ideology of cutting taxes for rich people in the supposed belief the money will trickle down and create jobs and opportunities. That’s a big fat lie, perpetuated for decades by conservatives. I don’t think most conservative politicians here even believe it. I believe they just want to serve the rich so they can get campaign donations and get reelected.

The Oklahoma Legislature under complete domination by Republicans has slashed the state income tax, a slow drip of cuts that have primarily benefitted the rich. Conservatives have passed out tax breaks to oil and gas companies as well. All this has lead to another huge, looming budget shortfall next fiscal year—estimated at $878 million in an approximate $7 billion budget—and an immediate revenue failure, which means public education will receive yet another $11.1 million cut.

It’s simply not sustainable. Teachers here are leaving in droves to teach in other states that will pay them more money and give them more respect. The state pays money to public universities—a decreasing amount, of course, made up by tuition increases—to train many of these teachers and they then leave here. Obviously, people will leave Oklahoma for different reasons, but why are we training teachers for other states?

All of this will only get amplified under the authoritarian presidency of Donald Trump, who also aims to cut taxes for the rich. What federal programs will get slashed here as the state cuts funding to its agencies and educational systems even more? It’s difficult to believe a new fossil-fuel boom is on the horizon unless there’s a major world war. Renewable energy sources are steadily replacing fossil fuels, and we’ve probably reached or are close to peak oil demand.

Oklahoma faces a bleak future not only because of its Republican-dominated government but also because of Trump’s presidency as well.

I’ve argued at least since 2000 that there has to be a breaking point in which the right-wing extremists here come to realize how much damage they are inflicting upon themselves and others, but now the election of the dysfunctional and lying Trump and recent events in Oklahoma have made me reconsider.

What if there isn’t a breaking point but just a steady demise of our state and country under an ideology and a rigged political and election system that makes no sense? The demise of American world power and its public institutions won’t benefit Oklahoma.

The answer, of course, is to resist, to show up, to engage, to tell the truth, to call out the lies here by local conservative leaders and Trump. Oklahoma conservative leaders are destroying this state; Donald Trump is an unhinged, compulsive liar.

Don’t let the sadness weigh you down. Get angry about what’s happening to our state and country. Speak up. It might be a cliché but silence really is complicity at this point.