The idea getting bounced around that somehow Republican lawmakers in the Oklahoma House and Senate have gotten a clear message that our poorly-paid public school teachers deserve raises doesn’t pass the basic logic test.
— Yahoo News (@YahooNews) December 21, 2016
The Oklahoman weighed in on the matter with a recent commentary titled rather bluntly “It’s clear that Oklahoma lawmakers have gotten the message about teacher pay,” but I don’t see that it’s clear at all. In fact, the crushing November defeat of State Question 779, which would have raised teacher salaries, sent the opposite message.
That message is this: A majority of Oklahomans are perfectly fine with major cuts to education at all levels and aren’t overly concerned that teachers here have about the lowest salaries in the nation, forcing many of them to leave the state for better pay.
The Oklahoman editorial mentions that new House Speaker Charles McCall has been told by the Republican caucus that their constituents’ “No. 1” issue is raising teacher salaries, but that smacks of political hyperbole to me. The commentary also goes over some plans by lawmakers that have been offered to raise teacher salaries in the upcoming legislative session.
I supported SQ 779, and I would support just about any plan that would raise teacher salaries by any amount, but the facts don’t add up at this point that it can happen. A small raise? Maybe for some window dressing. But the state faces a nearly 900 million dollar budget shortfall next fiscal year and might even have to endure a revenue failure this year, which would mean even more cuts.
Oklahoma has cut public education funding the most of any state on a percentage basis since 2008, studies have shown. Last session, the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin cut funding higher education by nearly 16 percent.Those two elephants in the Oklahoma’s living room can’t be ignored when Republicans suddenly feign interest in the plight of teachers here.
Oh yeah, ALL state workers deserve raises. Where’s the money going to come from?
A major reason for the recent cuts were declining revenues because of GOP-endorsed income tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy and tax breaks to oil and gas companies. The Oklahoman editorial board, of course, in its alternative reality, has long argued that the budget problems are all about the fracking bust here and that tax cuts and breaks generate more state revenues, not less.
The Republican priorities in this state seem about as clear as you can get. Cut taxes for rich people and starve government of money. It’s not that difficult to figure it out, but one has to tune out all the GOP lies about intent and ignore the “reform” language they use to financially devastate the middle class in this place.
What I believe is happening is that some Republicans are just paying lip service to an issue that some people here—certainly not the majority of voters—are deeply concerned about. They are also aware that the state’s national image is on the line because of the state’s brain drain and they’re concerned about their personal reputations and legacies. They want to appear like they’re trying to do something.
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but the reality is that one legislator has already proposed raising the retirement age for teachers and group of lawmakers in October looked at cutting overall benefits to educators and state workers.
Again, the idea that Republican lawmakers care about funding education or helping teachers doesn’t pass the logic test when it comes to their overall ideology. Raising the retirement age for teachers and cutting their health insurance benefits is a better indicator of which direction Oklahoma will continue to head in the future.