Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Special Session Brouhaha

Here are some of my random and not so random thoughts on what has been happening with #oklaed lately……..
  • Governor Mary Fallin has called a special legislative session to plug the $215 M budget shortfall, address consolidation and other government efficiencies, to make sure the trucking industry doesn’t get included in the new motor vehicle tax, and address a needed teacher pay raise.  
I really don’t know how to respond to this.  Well, that is not true; I have lots to say, I just don’t know which response I want to have first.  So here it goes.  My initial reaction to this was to laugh.  Think about it……. Not only will the State Fair be going on in Oklahoma, but now the circus too.  At 23rd and Lincoln Blvd (the big top), we will have not one but two ringmasters trying to tame the lions, get the elephants to march in single file, while the high wire act tries to walk the tightrope.  And yes, there will be clowns.  
On a serious note, we shouldn’t forget we are in this mess because of bad choices and politics.  Everyone is to blame.  Some don’t want to raise the Gross Production tax, but those same people do want to  raise the tax on cigarettes.  Others won’t even consider a cigarette tax unless we raise the tax on gas.  Others just want to continue with the tired line of “government is growning” and the only way to slow it down is to starve it.  People are not government! Mental health services are necessary.  Child welfare advocates are needed.  Yes these things cost money, but the cost to the people needing these services who aren’t getting them is exponentially greater.  
  • Just a quick side note…….. does Gov. Fallin suggesting #okleg look for ways to increase teacher pay remind you of Lucy trying to convince Charlie Brown she won’t yank the football away from him THIS TIME!  

 football prank trick charlie brown lucy GIF

  • Speaking of looking for Government Efficiencies……….if you really want to look for ways to save the government some much needed cash, could we please start with our #okleg? How many bills are heard each year, which everyone knows, is a purely partisan endeavor? (see abortion and guns) How about the ones the courts have already found unconstitutional? (see above abortion bills)  Just in education, #okleg has taken up the “zeros” bill a half dozen times, and the famous suspend students for making their pop tart look like a gun (yes, that one made national news).  Surely we can’t forget the “women are hosts for men’s babies” bill.  How much could we save the taxpayer if we simply stopped paying for these types of inefficiencies?  

I’m not sure exactly what efficiencies Gov. Fallin is looking for, but since I’m in education, I’ll assume she is looking at #oklaed. Being efficient is a funny thing.  Whose efficiency are we concerned with:  the taxpayer or the consumer?  To maximize our efficiency, why wouldn’t schools hire 1 teacher to develop all the lesson plans and a bunch of temps from Express Personnel to carry them out?  This could save taxpayers millions?  Who needs a qualified teacher in the classroom to teach them frivolous concepts like reading or Geometry?  Let’s consolidate districts so we don’t have the extra costs associated with being inefficient in child nutrition, administration, or other important things like facilities (who needs 2 elementary buildings when we can have 1 big one).  How much would that save the taxpayers? Of course it will cost the families who have to drive further to school events or drop their young children off at school and cost students whose time will be spent driving back and forth to distant schools or riding a school bus instead of spending time with their friends, stay afterschool to get help with homework, enjoy an evening with their parents, or go hunting or fishing with grandpa.   

  • Some thoughts not associated with the special session:
    • Why is it school choice advocates are the same people wanting school consolidation?  Isn’t a small, rural school a choice too?
    • Can it really be called school choice if the final decision to allow a student to attend rests with the school?
    • Why is it when it comes to school accountability, some think parents of public school students need a single summative A-F grade to understand if their child is getting a good education, but parents of private school parents just automatically know?
    • Why is it many in the #okleg continue to erode state support of Oklahoma Colleges and Universities while research suggests a greater need for Oklahomans to obtain more college degrees and career tech certifications?
    • Just remember when our recalibrated state test results are made public, that for the majority of our students in Oklahoma, the test result is the least important aspect of their lives.  Check out these facts regarding students in Oklahoma

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Poverty War; which side are you on

America loves to declare war.  We used to declare war on other nations (the last formal declaration of war was by FDR on December 8th, 1941). Now, we just declare war on social issues.  Lyndon B. Johnson gave us the War on Poverty in 1964.  In the 70’s it was the War on Drugs.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent Jimmy Carter in what was a traditionalist vs progressivist political campaign and thus began what is commonly referred to as the Culture Wars of the 80s & 90’s.  The Culture Wars were temporarily put on hold as a renewed wave of patriotism overtook Americans as President Bush declared a War on Terror immediately after the cowardly acts by terrorists on what is now simply known as 9/11.   However, that wave of patriotism was quickly replaced by cultural war rhetoric during the presidential campaign of 2004.

Culture Wars are fought by politicians for political gain.  The purpose of any cultural war is to draw attention to the issue to win campaigns --not to solve problems.  These culture wars are fought over things like minimum wage, social security, health care, abortion, and education.  Battle lines are dictated by ideology and not by personal experiences. Ideology is established at the national level by looking at the size of campaign donations or the impact on voter motivation, but it is sculpted and applied at the state level where ideological outcomes affect everyday citizens. Making matters worse is the current concept where your ideology is judged for purity of conviction and not whether it is applied for the benefit of society.  The war on poverty is a prime example of how ideological purity means more to some than the benefit to others.

If you have been paying attention to any of the Oklahoma education policy lately, you might have noticed another type of War on Poverty.  This is a silent war, but one happening just the same.  This war is not a war against poverty, but a war against poverty.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Let me explain it another way.  Oklahoma, along with other states with extreme far right leaning governments, has long engaged (and now joined by the Trump administration) in a war not to end poverty, but a war against the impoverished.  There has been no formal declaration, just a constant landslide of economic and education policies aimed at hurting children who qualify for government assistance.  Need proof?  Oklahoma has had 6 straight years of reducing state investment in common education -one stat where Oklahoma leads the nation.  Higher education has been cut 23% in the last 2 years.  When I went to college state support for higher education was 40% and today it stands at 15%.  Think of it this way; our parents and grandparents paid taxes to help send the majority of us to college and we pay it forward by cutting our own taxes so our kids have to foot their own tuition bill? Lawmakers have tried for years to siphon money away from public schools for private school tuition.  Trump's first proposed education budget slashes 21st century grants and other after school programs, along with federal support for special education and Title 1.  Who needs the most support in education? Kids from impoverished homes.  Which programs are being targeted for cuts? Programs helping students in poverty.

This is much more than just paying less in taxes and more for services.  Some services are priceless.  Don’t you think any of the mothers of teenage kids who are addicted to drugs or bullied into suicide wouldn’t gladly pay more in taxes for social workers or mental health professionals?  How about less crowded emergency rooms or better staffed veteran centers?  How about school counselors who are trained to help students with everyday decisions like identifying a career or dealing with a problem?  Counselors play vital roles within a school and are more than the “administration overhead” argued by those in the culture wars. Character education, bullying prevention, testing, scholarships, graduation, career planning, are just some of what they do for our children.  Not to mention just being a good listener and building psychologist for students, teachers, and parents who need help.  And it is not just counselors……kids in poverty need before and after school programs  to help them and their parents who work non-school friendly jobs.  Kids need teachers who pour themselves into their work and won’t let poverty be the issue preventing success.  Kids need library books, textbooks, computers, internet, custodians, bus drivers, crossing guards, reading specialists, and classroom teachers who know them as people and not just another body crammed into an overcrowded classroom.  Don’t let the ideologues draw your attention away from the solution by claiming educators just want to “throw more money” at the problem.  Textbooks are more than money. After school programs are preferential over being sent home to an empty house. Teachers are much, much more than the salary that shows up on a financial statement-they are people who are trained to fight the war on poverty.  The war trying to overcome poverty, not the war declaring it government waste.