Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Couple of Jokes -- One of Which is HB1019X

I did not have the heart or the will to watch the debate and vote on HB1019X today. Everyone with a brain knew the outcome, and the outcome will not be pretty for any of us who have friends or family in our state.

I DID watch on my computer (after my husband shut the door to my guest room/office...I watched the debate and the vote. And I wept bitterly.

I tried to take notes and characterize Representatives' arguments clearly. When my mouth would not be still, I added my own commentary in italics. 

FORREST Bennett, NOT to be confused with the no-taxes Bennett: (Against) He had to reclaim 6 seconds for his debate because his colleagues were being rowdy. Chair reminded the House of the need for decorum in the Chamber and reminded them to disagree with dignity and respect. If they can't do that, maybe they all need to go back to school and work on their people skills.

Rep. F. Bennett said he felt duped and deceived, taken for a ride by the leadership. They had said they wouldn't cut funding, and this bill cuts funding. He pointed out that after the failure of HB1054X, this bill mysteriously appeared...all ready to go. He urged a NO vote to hold the House accountable to voters..."You can do better if you have the will to do better."

Matt Meredith: (Against) He said the House is playing games with people's lives. He reminded the body that the Speaker promised the minority party that if THEY could deliver 75% yes votes on HB1054X, it would pass. The minority party delivered over 80%, but the bill failed when 12 Chairs, including the Chair of the Common Ed Committe, voted NO. He apologized to teachers, to the County Commissioners who came to advocate, to elderly and to children. He called the O&G employees who were bused to the Capitol for the debate last week, "paid protesters." I will add paid protesters who had a cushy ride from and back to work. He decried the weeks of time wasted in the Special Session and said the Senate was their only hope.

Collin Walke: (Against) He promised he wouldn't yell, and I can testify to the fact he did not raise his voice; he still brought his passion. He reminded the House that he told members the cigarette tax bill they passed in session was unconstitutional - BEFORE they voted. He reminded them he said it was a bad bill. They passed it any way. He evoked the Speaker, 'who dares not darken the floor of the House.' He did not yell.

Cyndi Munson: (Against) spoke eloquently about meeting students from a public school honor society. She spoke of her own alma mater, UCO, and told the body that 1500 A and B students have left the university before completing a degree. She warned that scholarships will be withdrawn because the funding is not there. She ended by saying Oklahoma deserves better.

Josh West: (For) He complained that others had called him a bully. Not sure about the context at all. He said his wife works in mental health...Then began decrying bureaucratic waste...In a swipe to the County Commissioners, I assume, he said their choice was people or asphalt. I wondered at his last sounded like a threat to any counties represented by members who vote NO. Surely not.

Jason Dunnington: (Against) He talked about one-time funding and deficits every year. He reminded the body they do the same thing every year. He challenged the House: next Session, beginning in February, members should not file any bills unless they include recurring revenue for the state. "We are the problem." He said they must be hyper-focused on recurring revenue, not social issues.

Scott Fetgatter: (For) Says we must choose between jobs, roads and bridges, and elderly and disabled people. People are losing services without this bill.

Johnny Tadlock: (Against) He told the body that it will be hard to go home and tell the people he voted for a bill to cut funds and services. Warned members they will return in February in a worse position than they're in now. He said he was going to be real about his vote.

Chuck Strohm: (For) Told members this bill IS the compromise. The only solution that protects state agencies. I may have cursed at the screen...just a bit. Rep Strohm only likes the bill in my mind because it cuts...cuts...and cuts. As a proud Grover Norquist no-tax-pledge signatory, he is not as interested in protecting agencies in my mind, as he is in never raising taxes.

Cory Williams: (Against) He called up the ghosts of OCPA and OICA as the big winners in this bill. He admitted he took heat on his vote last week. I might have brought my own blowtorch. He said a yes vote was doing 'more of what got us to 50th in the nation. How can we tell Amazon to invest in us if we don't invest in ourselves?' This is not a compromise in his mind.

John Bennett: (For) He began his debate with a story of a husband and wife who were charged with shooting the other to death. I got lost in the metaphor. He said this bill helps them make hard decisions...that it satisfies needs until next session. That it is the only alternative without taxing Oklahomans to death. Then he went on the familiar 'audit-audit-audit' rant. My eyes rolled into my head...I lost the thread at that point. He returned to his other favorite talking point: HB1017, the biggest tax increase in state history. He claimed 'total' state spending has increased. He called all opposition "scare tactics." Then, as I've come to expect, he went off the rails, accusing OU of encouraging abortion, of wasting money on monasteries. NOW he cares deeply about the vulnerable in our state...this from the man who called state agencies 'terrorists' the last time he debated. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along.

Todd Thompsen: (Against) Rep Thompsen is a Republican who also brought up the fact that his own leadership voted against HB1054X...'our leaders were not jumping on.' He also reminded Democrats that their own leadership voted against the former bill. He sounded like a very reluctant NO vote, but a NO vote. 

Jon Echols: (For) The Floor Leader said he'd looked up the debate rules and could not call others liars, but he could say they lied. "I looked it up. I can say that." He said, "The truth is not in you. I cannot call you liars." He reminded the body that Department of Health would not be able to make payroll at the end of the month without the bill. This must have been in response to several others who asked the members to keep working on a better bill -- he warned that we are out of time. I'll admit, I got lost in this commentary. Never was sure who were the people-lying-who-were-not-liars. I think I missed a few seconds due to a glitchy connection.

David Perryman: (Against) He began by saying OCPA never saw a government program they didn't want to kill. He warned that the cuts in this bill would create long term problems for the state. He asked the body to stand up for people not corporations. He said that this moment was a natural result of years of neglect.

Kevin Wallace, Chair of Appropriations and Budget: (For) Chairman Wallace, who had just stood and answered an hour of questions about the bill with good humor and respect closed the debate. He reminded members that the failed cigarette tax, recently deemed unconstitutional by the Court, is the reason we are back in Special Session (Actually, I learned on the first day, it's called an Extraordinary Session). He said 12 agencies where held flat in this bill, with no cuts...Common Ed is one he mentioned. He didn't mention the fact there are MORE students for the same dollar allocation. That means the state invests less on each student. So, that is a cut. He warned the members that we are all racing toward a cliff, and said this bill will save us.

Someone in debate told one of my favorite jokes about digging into a pile of poo...the optimist does it with glee, because 'there's a pony in there someplace.'

They voted. It passed (no new revenue, so it only needed 51 votes). There was no pony.

Now, I'm going to go write thank-you emails to the NO votes. They seem to have more faith in our ability to truly help our fellow Oklahomans than the people who voted yes. My head hurts.

Eight Weeks. Eight. OK, Seven and a half . And THIS is the plan??

Update -- The sky has officially fallen. Governor Mary Fallin and I agree on something...she doesn't like this bill any more than I do. My question all Extraordinary Session has been:Why is the Speaker flying in the face of the Governor's wishes? I know she's a lame duck at this point...but to so completely ignore her intentions...It mystifies me.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Votes

I've 'donated' my blog tonight to Crystal Davis, a former student and fellow activist. We sat together Wednesday afternoon during the questions, debate, and vote for HB1054X, which needed 76 yes votes to become law, and save crucial social and medical services for our citizens. It fell short of the required 3/4 margin. Crystal is one of those treasures of my advocacy journey. Seeing her now, a fierce adult, making time to show up and stand witness. And she's a crackerjack analyst. She thinks in numbers and can use words like weapons. I appreciate her questions and her research. Why DID the vote fail?

Crystal, in her own words: "I'm a 4th Generation Oklahoman and a statistician who actively advocates for 7% GPT and the most vulnerable Oklahomans."

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to save services for the most vulnerable in Oklahoma.  

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to give teachers and state employees a pay raise.  

I can count on one hand, 1-2-3-4-5, the number of votes needed to pass the ‘Grand Bargain’.

‘The Grand Bargain’ is a bill which includes a tax increase on fuel, tobacco, and low point beer; along with an increase of the gross production tax incentive rate from 2% to 4%.  A previous version of this bill which included all of the above except the gross production tax failed to receive the required 76 votes in the State House . ‘The Grand Bargain’ has the required number of votes needed in the Senate and the Governor’s support, but fell short by 5 votes in the State House on Wednesday.  Many people are asking who is to blame for the failure of 1054X?

The Democrats?  

23 Democrats voted yes, 5 voted no. It would be easy to point a finger to those 5 Democrats and say, “If those 5 Democrats had voted yes, this would of passed.” The Democrats delivered 82.14% of their caucus.  Speaker McCall said in an earlier statement, ‘If the Democrats deliver 75% of their caucus, we’ll deliver 75% of our caucus.’ Last I checked 75% of 28 is 21.  The Democrats delivered 2 extra votes.  With 2 vacant seats in the State House, House District 51 and 76, the Democrats went above and beyond making up for those vacancies.

The Republicans?

There are currently 71 Republicans in the house.  75% of 71 representatives is 53.25.  The Republicans needed to bring 53 votes.  Combined with the 23 Democratic votes, the bill would of passed with the 76 votes needed. Only 48 Republicans supported the ‘Grand Bargain’, 67.6% of their members.

It’s worth taking a closer look at those 22 no votes from the Republicans. Of those 22, 7 voted yes on a previous version of the bill which did not include Gross Production Tax. Those 7 Republican Representatives are:

Bobby Cleveland
Jeff Coody
John Enns
Mark McBride
Lewis Moore
Terry O’Donnell
Michael Rogers

Often times in politics we ask ourselves, what does a politician have to gain by changing their vote? I looked at the campaign contributions, wondering how much Oil and Gas had donated to their campaigns.  According to these numbers provided by Oklahoma Watch, there is Oil and Gas money tied to each of these Republicans, but not enough to justify switching their votes. I started to wonder if we need to ask ourselves, what does a politician have to lose? With a tip and a little researching, I learned in the case of the 7 Republicans who voted no, they have a lot to lose.

Bobby Cleveland - Chair Public Safety
Jeff Coody - Chair Wildlife
John Enns - Chair of Human Services & Long Term Care
Mark McBride - Vice Chair Energy, Assistant Floor Leader
Lewis Moore - Assistant Majority Whip, Chair Insurance
Terry O’Donnell - Majority Whip
Michael Rogers - Assistant Majority Whip, Chair Common Education

That’s a lot of highly coveted positions of power among those 7 Republicans. Among the 22 no votes there are 13 committee chairs and 7 vice chairs.. Makes one wonder why those who hold positions of power voted no. So the question remains, who is to blame? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

One. Year.

One year ago today.

One. Year.

SQ779 went down to defeat. I was against it before I was supportive. I, like many of my progressive friends, hated the regressive nature of a state sales tax to fund teacher raises. Then I listened to friends and family who were happy to pay that penny to help fund teacher raises. An interesting analysis after the election found that communities around our borders voted FOR 779, and in some metro areas, neighborhoods around poorer schools did too. I supported this and was stunned (yes, I am an optimist) when it failed.

With a few exceptions (Mickey Dollens), our Teacher Caucus candidates, were defeated by wide margins. We had been so hopeful that educators and close relatives running for office, highlighting the issues in our schools, would excite and inspire voters to elect newcomers who would be committed to our public schools. We knocked doors, we called, we wrote postcards. And we watched the Caucus flame out.

But...we were told our legislators heard the cry...they were going to get right on that teacher raise. That 'better plan.' We did not hold our breath. We would have died if we held our breath.

There was no plan...and teachers left the state to support their families. Or they left the profession to support their families. Our public schools have a record number of emergency-certified teachers in classrooms. I know of two teachers in my community who have quit in the middle of the semester. Others, dependent on WIC, are looking for new jobs. There. Was. No. Plan.

HB1054X, the bill that the House will consider this afternoon is a pile of poo. And sometimes practical, pragmatic people vote for a pile of poo, knowing the battle has not ended...that we still have our values intact. We know the direction we want the state of OK to go. And we are willing to take smaller steps toward our goal.

If supporting this bill knowing it's deeply flawed means I must turn in my Progressive Card, so be it. My first vote was for Bobby Kennedy in the Indiana presidential primary just months before his assassination. And my second vote was for Eugene McCarthy for president. I'm secure in my values.

I'm ready to be pragmatic to save our most vulnerable...people who rely on waivers for their home health care. People who work in sheltered workshops, people who live in state-supported nursing homes. People who depend on state and county mental health services. Every one of those folks has a family, a circle of friends who will also be affected. Mothers will have to quit their jobs to provide full time care. Sisters who will have to open their homes. Sons and daughters who will see their parents going without needed services.

IF this passes with the required 3/4 vote (will rant about SQ640 later), I'm coming back, demanding more. I'm not going away. Neither are those of us who love someone affected by the cuts about to fall.

If this fails, I'll be back...but some Oklahomans might not have that luxury of time.

One. Year. In that year policy makers have seen our schools lose dedicated educators -- including a dear friend and a Grand's favorite teacher. This will not change. It will accelerate.

One. Year. And now, health services and mental health services are in the cross-hairs.

One. Year. Do we have another year to dither and demand perfection? I, for one, am not willing to gamble the life of ONE OKLAHOMAN.

Not another year like this one...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Where are We Going, and Why are We in this Handbasket?

Ok, now I'm just pissed. Angry. Frustrated. Furious. Livid. Pissed.

In the past days I've heard stories of devastation:

  • Teachers forced to rely on WIC to feed their own children as they educate OURS.
  • Home-bound citizens being told their ADvantage program that provides home nurses, allowing them to live in their own homes with dignity told their program may end November 30.
  • State employees were given a glimmer of a hope for a raise, only to have that dashed.
  • Another tease of a $1000 raise for beleaguered teachers ($83.33 a month before taxes)
  • HB1093, a draconian requirement that Medicaid recipients go to great lengths to requalify for the health care for themselves and their families.
  • Friends who are health-care providers don't know if they'll have a job in December. 
  • Home bound clients may be forced into a nursing home.
  • Mental health clients stand to lose all out-patient services

Letter received by ADvantage clients
We are in the middle of an 'extraordinary' session called by the Governor to fix the budget after the centerpiece of the past session, the $215 MILLION 'smoking cessation' bill was deemed unconstitutional.

Last week I attended the rally at the Capitol to save mental health and public health...or I tried to. I never got into the building until the actual rally was moved outside. I saw desperate caregivers and desperate clients begging lawmakers to do something. I stood behind a client who told me she'd never been to Oklahoma City before. I stood in front of two nurses who drove in from Elk City.

On the 23rd, we were told there was a budget 'agreement'. Umm, the GOP did that to us before. They agreed with leadership...but not with the Democrats. This was the same. the GOP agreed, announced the 'deal', and left the press room without answering questions.

That cobbled-together Frankenstein's monster of a bill went down in the it should have. But these workers and clients had been told that was the only hope to save services. I watched that debate and watched Democratic legislators offer several opportunities to their colleagues for compromise. None was taken. The bill did not reach its 76-vote threshold.

Another bill that actually raised Gross Production Tax on new horizontal oil wells. Friday we all hoped it would sail through Appropriations and Budget Committee and reach the House floor...maybe Saturday. In a stunning raw display of power, the budget compromise failed in a tie. The GOP Chair chose not to vote for the bill. The GOP Speaker of the House who is a member of all Committees did not vote to break the tie. The leadership let the bill die in Committee. It became apparent that our budding hopes were to be destroyed.

If the first bill was Frankenstein's monster, what happened next was the Bride...Cuts, raids of the Rainy Day fund, shuffling of money from one hand to another is what we got. Legislators voted for this mess. I can only imagine their sadness.

Now, today, we read the report of the Interim Study by Representative Rick West, targeting 'Government Waste.' I did not attend...I did volunteer at my Grands'. Rep. West's bold initiative for saving the state from taxes? Do you really want to know??

He suggested the state could save $100,000 if the State Department of Education stopped using color ink in their printers! There are no words. Fill that $215 MILLION dollar hole in the budget from your unconstitutional law with printer cartridges. Yeah, that'll work just fine.

That was his suggestion. No new taxes. No new revenue. No recurring revenue stream. Just stop making color copies.

**A friend just reminded me that the bill to Oklahoma tax payers for this Extraordinary Session is approximately $30,000 per day. That pays mileage and per-diem for legislators who live outside the, three-and-a-half days of Extraordinary Session equals the OSDE's annual color cartridge bill. Priorities.**

Representative West wants to "root...out government inefficiency." He wants to "trim...the fat." He wants the corner on cliches, I guess. He and his colleague, Representative Tom Gann released a statement that chides OSDE for using color cartridges. I have no polite words.

Just tonight, Representative John Bennett, a disciple of Grover make-government-so-small-you-can-drown-it-in-a-bathtub Norquist, called state health and mental health agencies 'terrorists'. TERRORISTS! For doing their jobs and protecting their clients.

"The world is out of balance. The center cannot hold."

I've played nice. I've visited the Capitol. I've written letters and emails. I've made calls. I've worn buttons and held signs. We all have done what we can to make this legislature responsive.

OK Legislature taking last can of WHO HASH
Here we are entering the Christmas season with the biggest Grinches working at the Capitol. Working in service of Big Oil that has decided it won't contribute to our state. It will continue to frack, to extract natural resources out of the land, and it doesn't care if teachers leave the state to feed their children, if disabled patients have to move to nursing homes, if families lose their Medicaid for an excess of paperwork and regulations. The industry doesn't seem to care if dedicated state workers continue to make due with less, with no raises.

The industry doesn't care.

Some legislators don't seem to care.

OCPA, a conservative think tank has taken us #oklaed bloggers to task for our bad language and vitriol. Bad words and vitriol are bubbling to the surface right now like red-hot lava.

Today, all I can think is "Sh*t. Sh*t. Sh*t. What the actual H*ll? What the Frack??"

Oh, and Merry Christmas to Oklahoma...if we have a state in December.

What services have I forgotten? Please add them in comments. I know I'm not thinking clearly right now.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

HOW TO BE HEARD -- or Reading is Complicated When You Make Connections

I am intrigued when a book reconnects me to favorite activists, to my own writing, and to concerns I’ve struggled with for most of my career. Celine Coggins is founder and former CEO of Teach Plus – more about them later. Her book, How To Be Heard: 10 Lessons Teacher Need to Advocate for their Students and Profession is that book. My National Board trainer, brilliant advocate, Nancy Flanagan, and my online friend, Doug Martin, author of a cautionary tale about education in my home state of Indiana, have prior experience with Coggins’ work. Their insights put Coggins' book into context for me, and expand my understanding well beyond these pages.

The ‘big idea’ that brings all this together in my eclectic mind is teacher leadership. Nancy has written often and well about teacher leadership sometimes being nothing but cleverly-constructed ‘teacher management’ – using the name and credibility of a respected educator to promote others’ agenda (Notice the fact that Nancy refers to Coggins in her post).  She points it out, and she challenges the concept thoughtfully and reflectively.  Her piece inspired me to think about the ways I’ve been managed in the past.

I was drawn to the book because I know I need to become a better advocate for schools and students and families…I’m missing the boat somehow. When I visit with legislators one-on-one I ask them for advice about advocating, and I get advice like, build relationships, bring your passion, focus on issues not personalities. OK…I can do that. I’m a teacher. But there’s got to be more.

How to be Heard has a kernel of what I’m searching for. Educators and legislators use the same words, but mean something completely different, and we must recognize that fact, and use it. “Equity” for teachers is making sure every student has an opportunity to thrive in our classrooms, and in our schools. For policy makers, it means systems are in place that might close the achievement gap; it means improving teacher quality in some measurable way (read test scores).

When we use “students” or “kids”, we can conjure up a sea of individual faces, our kids. Our classes. We are advocating for those students. Policy makers, because their sphere of influence is so much larger, these same words have an abstract, generic meaning. Their “kids” are all the students in the state, or in their district. Educators who advocate should be aware of that shift of meaning, and know it goes with the territory.

Coggins also analyzes other language differences between educators and legislators – our knowledge base (content, management, development vs. research on systems, rules of education policy), our influences (direct vs. indirect), the process we focus our attention on (inputs vs. outcomes), levers for change (relationships vs. legislation), our vision of professional success (impacting lives vs. re-election), and the pressures we encounter (scarcity of time, factors outside our classroom, and the needs of our students, vs. resource scarcity, a desire to measure accountability, and that equity I described above). Teachers are practitioners; policy makers are social scientists and researchers.
This, I think, is the piece that was new learning for me…and important for me to think about as I work with legislators.

When we understand policy makers’ concern with scarce resources, we understand how teacher salaries seems to be the most useful variable in forcing change. In any district’s budget, teacher salaries make up the majority of dollars spent. That is why we’ve seen such a push to do away with the traditional teacher salary schedules, to add schemes to pay teachers for high student test scores. Legislators are tinkering with the largest lever they have.

One more part of Coggins’ message I will enfold into my advocacy is the idea of coming with solutions. I need to come to conversations with ideas, a ‘third’ way to help solve the issues and problems facing education policy makers. Have ideas, not just “No”. I often enter the process after the legislation has been written, too late to have influence. I feel like I’m always behind the curve. I need to be involved earlier in the process. I need to bring education research to conversations to help craft legislation, not use the research after the bills are presented to show how bad they are. Easier said…

Coggins' ideas of advocating from a position of limited power,  a position when I am building power are useful: learn patience, help find that new plan, meet one-on-one, be creative, write and research, build coalitions. As I look at that list of actions, I see the work that teachers do every day. We are the experts, and we have the skills to reach out to influence policy. We need to remember this.

One of Coggins’ ten rules is this: “Accountability is inescapable.” I agree, and support that…but part ways with her when she says testing will always be a part of accountability, even as she admits that testing is broken. She suggests educators help policy makers make ‘better’ tests…I need her to spend more time talking about broken tests, and broken accountability based on broken tests. She fully supports the idea that achievement tests measure learning, a typical policy-maker stance. 

She believes teachers should be evaluated on student test scores, on value-added measures. She believes that incentive pay should be based on student test scores. She believes that student attendance should be used in accountability measures for schools. She believes teachers associations should be challenged, and sees her work as the catalyst. She seems to side with disruptions that seem to benefit education reformers.

Her examples of how her teacher leaders have participated in policy making gave me that twitch between my shoulder blades that I always feel when I’m being managed. It seemed like her teacher leaders came to the conclusions policy makers is it leadership? Or managed teachers?
Her vision of ‘teacher leadership’ really seems to be that managed leadership Nancy talked about. It’s ‘we have the good ideas, and when you come onboard, we’ll let you talk about these great ideas. We’ll use your reputation and your credibility to sell our idea.’

Here is where my friend Doug’s work comes in – here, and here linking Coggins’ work with Bill Gates. Her stances are suspiciously similar to Gates' goals for disruptive reform. Doug’s book Hoosier School Heist is one of the most important books I’ve read about how ideological school reform can affect our students. She and her ‘teacher leaders’ used Gates money to write legislation that changed teacher employment practices in Indiana.

In my mine, she is a managed teacher herself. She’s bought into reformers’ narratives about schools and teachers. Her work at Teach Plus seems to be focused on creating more managed teacher leaders who will go out and preach her message, funded by Bill Gates’ grants.  Go back to that list of her beliefs, and connect the dots with Gates money.

She begins and ends her book with the power of stories…and this is where we both are on the same page. Her first rule is ‘Advocacy begins with your WHY,’ without crediting Simon Sinek’s book,  Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.  In my work with teachers, I will ask them to begin here…and, I’d love to ask policy makers their WHY. This could build those relationships educators need to be successful advocates.  Her tenth lesson is, “Your story has to meet the moment,” and she includes tips about creating your story, and using it to build your credibility. So, we agree about stories’ power.

We also agree with her ninth lesson, but my point of view is much more cynical. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” I can’t help but think she’s carefully grooming her teacher leaders to be at the table as the entrĂ©e. That they’ll agree with and support policy makers’ views without challenging. I don’t want to be at the table in this scenario.

Bottom line? I’m still looking for a book that will show me how to take my reputation and my credibility to the table and hold on tightly to them both, and not relinquish them as the price of admission. Does anyone have some ideas?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"How to Talk to Your Legislator": Guest blog by Brendan Jarvis

I often brag about having smart friends, because it's true. My friend Brendan was posting a series of pieces on FaceBook about how to talk to legislators, and how to answer some of their favorite attacks on public schools. I begged him to combine them all into one post that I could publish for us all to share.
In OK, we are going into a special session next week, supposedly to find new revenue to fund our state, and to fund teacher raises. That may or may not happen. But, if you find yourself visiting with a policy maker, and they fall into any of these conversations, Brendan has supplied your non-confrontational, professional, fact-filled responses. I thank Brendan, and you should, too! BTW -- lobbying photos are with very friendly legislators would NEVER talk to constituents like Brendan's fictional one.

"You are a teacher.  You are embarrassed that your friend from overseas shared an article with you about Oklahoma, your home state, refusing to fund core services such as education and health care.  You have seen teachers in your school quit teaching when they had babies because their salary does not justify paying for day care so they might as well stay home.  You have seen teachers leave for other professions and other states.  You have been encouraged to speak to your legislators about the problem, but are not sure how.  You decide to try, and make an appointment to talk to the elected state representative from your district.

You:  I would like to talk to you about the education funding problem in Oklahoma.

Legislator: Funding to Oklahoma schools had actually increased.

You:  That includes federal dollars for federal programs and cannot be used for teacher salaries and textbooks. It is your job to fund those things.  Funding is lower per pupil than it was in 2008.

Legislator: Education accounts for more than half of state government spending. You: That is because you have cut so many government services that education is the biggest piece in a smaller pie even after cuts. Districts don't meet payroll with percentages, they need more dollars.

Legislator: Your district seems to be doing fine, look at your athletic facilities.

You: Facilities are funded with local bond money; our community decides to invest in our kids in an election every year.

Senator JJ Dossett
Legislator: Look at all the free meals you provide.

You: That money comes from the federal government. Our nation decided that kids should not go hungry at school many years ago.

Legislator: So why don't you just pay teachers more?

You: Most of the money that goes to teacher pay is allocated by the state legislature. That funding has been cut by over $48 million while enrollment has gone up by 8,000 students.

Legislator: The funding formula is so complicated. How are we supposed to fix education funding when nobody understands how it works?

You: You don't have to know exactly how an engine works to know that you have to put gas in it.

Legislator: So why don't we just make it so local districts can use bond money to pay teachers?

You: Well, that would cause several problems. First, it would cause further inequities between districts who benefit from high property values and those that don't, and make it even more difficult for many districts to retain teachers. Second, it would place a further tax burden on homeowners and renters by raising their housing costs, and would force people to weigh their household budget against the education of their children.

Legislator:  Administration wastes the money we give schools to line their own pockets.

You:  There is already a law concerning administration costs.  It caps the amount that can be used for that purpose.  In fact, at under 3.6%, administrative costs are lower state-wide than what is legally required.  Of course there may be individual examples of waste in districts.  That is a local school  board issue and can be dealt with at that level, in keeping with the conservative principals of local control and limited government.  As a legislator, you should be most concerned with the overall numbers.

Legislator:  We have too many school districts.  If we force rural districts to consolidate, we will have fewer superintendents and we can pay for teacher raises.

You:  Again, administrative costs are only at 3.6%.  Consolidation will not save much if anything and will give people false hope the way the lottery did.  In ten years, people will be saying, “wasn’t consolidation supposed to fix this?”   You do bring up a good argument against charter schools, though.

Legislator:  Schools need to be run more efficiently.   We the legislature will audit and oversee the administration of schools.

You:  You mean the same legislature that has been featured in state, national, and international news for its lack of problem solving skills?  No thanks, I would rather have communities control who runs their local schools.   Again, that’s good argument against vouchers/ESA’s, as they lack accountability measures for the schools receiving funds.

Legislator: Then how are neighboring states managing to pay teachers more than we do?

You: They have a higher Gross Production Tax on oil wells and/or higher state income tax. There are other revenue measures involved as well.

Newly-sworn-in Rep. Karen Gaddis
Legislator: So you are saying it's on me?

You: Yes

Legislator: If we raise the GPT, oil companies will leave the state. You: Oil companies are beholden to their shareholders. As long as there is oil here, they will drill it, and we have the SCOOP and STACK plays that are booming right now.

Legislator:   What are you doing in my office anyway?  If you care about your students, shouldn’t you be in class or working on lesson plans?  You shouldn’t be advocating for an increase in your own pay.

You:  I am here because I care about students, and want them to have the best education and teachers possible, and you are one of the people who has control over that.   I’m for a teacher raise because it helps the state retain good teachers, not out of self-interest other than the fact that I want to be able to do the job that I love in the place that I love, and it is currently difficult to do.

Legislator:  You are just listening to that liberal teachers’ union.  They are just dang liberal liberals.

You:  The Oklahoma Education Association includes teachers from all political perspectives, and focuses on education policy, on which there is more and more common ground.   They work with legislators from both sides of the aisle, but certainly wouldn’t support a legislator who bashes teachers and does not support funding.  That would be dumb.  Besides, many groups other than OEA are supporting teacher raises, including a group that represents oil and gas producers.  They all represent both Republicans and Democrats. 

Legislator:  I saw in the paper that a teacher did a really awful thing.  Should we be giving teachers raises when they are doing stuff like that?

You:  So every person in a given occupation should be judged by the actions of a few?   Let’s talk about Ralph Shor…

Legislator: Never mind

Legislator: It is clear that I should vote to return to the rates of GPT and the top bracket of state income tax that existed before we cut them. That would help us retain teachers and not put the burden entirely on families or other groups that can less afford taxes. I'm going to go do that right now.

You wake up elated, and then disappointed that it was only a dream.  You should have known because it went a little too well.  You know it won’t go that well in real life, but you know what to say, and you have every right to say it."

Brendan Jarvis is in his 14th year of teaching at Union Public Schools in Tulsa and his 20th year over all.  He began his first term on the Oklahoma Education Association Board of Directors representing Tulsa Metro Zone D this past summer.  His children attend Union Schools and are members of the Renegade Regiment marching band.  He is a proud Union teacher and a proud union teacher.    


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Outside Money Funds Attacks on #oklaed

We saw it through the last election cycle: American Federation for Children, a foundation devoted to private school 'choice' in the form of vouchers, and its local affiliate, Oklahoma Federation for Children funneled almost $200,000 into legislative races in Oklahoma, specifically targeting our Teacher Caucus, educators and family members who risked everything to contribute to a new conversation about education and funding in our state. I wrote about it last year, and I truly hoped we'd seen the last of Betsy DeVos's meddling in our state.

Alas, I was incorrect. OFC, funded directly by AFC, congratulated Darin Chambers, Republican candidate for HD46 on his primary win, aided in part by their attacks on his opponents.

This is MY House district, and these last days of the campaign (VOTE on Tuesday, September 12), OFC has sent attack ads to our mailboxes, defaming MY candidate, Jacob Rosecrants. It's a tactic they employed in the primary against his Republican opponents, and, frankly, we knew it was coming. Time-worn strategy:smear the opponent with too little time for them to mount a rebuttal, and do it with dark money so the candidate can feign shock and surprise, while reaping the advantage of the attacks.

The flyers are clear that they have not been "approved" by the candidate, giving Mr. Chambers the gloss of deniability. But, there is no denying the fact he's relying on out-of-state from a group that has vouchers as its prime directive. They will want votes from him. Even if he hasn't 'approved' the attack flyers, we know there will be a reckoning...and it will involve his votes. I, for one, do not want MY Representative to pay AFC and OFC back for their support with votes for vouchers when our schools are not fully funded.

Disclaimer: Jacob Rosecrants is my friend. He was my student. I've literally watched him grow up, grow as an educator and as an advocate. These attacks are ones I take personally for my student and friend. But, I'm trying to follow the positive example of Jacob's campaign, and trying to tamp down my outrage and hyperbole.

Rage amplified by the fact that a Norman Public Schools Board Member is featured prominently on Chambers' campaign literature as a supporter. Yes, a Board member of a PUBLIC school district, one of the best in the state, is supporting a candidate funded by a group who pushes private school vouchers over public schools. "Disturbed" is the politically-correct term for my emotions.

We must fight for OUR schools, OUR students...and Jacob is the only choice for HD46. We must tell DeVos and her foundations that they are not welcome in #oklaed. Jacob has been supported by legions of neighbors, knocking doors, making calls, hand-writing postcards. Volunteers have streamed down from Edmond every weekend. We know what's at stake and we're committed to Jacob's positive message.

In case you think I'm the only one incensed over this dark money trick, my friend Alison McCormick Petrone described the situation well. I am using her words with her permission:

"American Federation for Children is a voucher peddling SuperPac with chapters in every state attacking Public Ed. They have endorsed Darin Chambers because he believes in vouchers and charters, and created a smear campaign of a dedicated and talented local public school teacher in an attempt to seat another voucher-pushing corporate Private Ed state representative. 
"Public Ed is truly under attack in Oklahoma. This cannot be stated any more clearly. The groups want all of our children to go to corporate, for-profit schools. These D.C. SuperPacs they have created to push their agenda may have bottomless cash bags, but we will not be intimidated by their money and lies because our children deserve a quality public education by birthright as Americans.

"Vote for Jacob Rosecrants! Get out and volunteer for Jacob. Make calls from the Hilton meeting room today through Tues. Get people out to the polls.
"This isn't about Democrat vs Republican. This is about our kids."

I've sent the following to our local paper as a letter to the editor. But, knowing the election is Tuesday, and my letter may not make it into print, I'm sharing it here. So, on the great chance I've missed the deadline to have my letter printed, here it is to be shared.

"There have been some ugly flyers dropped in HD46’s mailboxes, full of innuendo and downright attacks against candidate Jacob Rosecrants. I’ve known Jacob since he was my student in English 1 and English 2 at Central Mid High. I watched him as a student, always with a smile on his face. I watched him create friendships with his classmates, reaching out to everyone, being inclusive and positive. You were never a stranger when Jacob was in the room.

 I watched him decide to become a teacher and those same gifts I saw in the fourteen-year-old Jacob helped him forge climates in his classroom of mutual respect and acceptance. He has taught in some tough schools in OKCPS, and he has thrived.

I saw him show an interest in fighting the school reforms that were damaging his classroom. He educated himself on the issues and found his voice.  As a social studies teacher who takes his role seriously, he began to speak out, to advocate for his students and their families.

Some of the volunteers Saturday morning! 4 Central Mid High folks!
I saw him begin to take an interest in politics, attending meetings, joining party groups, speaking up and speaking out. I’ve seen him educate himself on other issues that voters in our district care deeply about. Jacob has built a grass-roots campaign with volunteers who believe in his message of inclusion, public schools, health care, and adequate funding of schools and other core services. He ran a positive campaign against Representative Scott Martin, learned valuable lessons, and was ready to run again. He has prepared himself to lead.

How ironic that an out-of-state group who works against public schools is now financing the attack ads in our mailboxes. US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is someone we should trust with our public schools. But she has a long history of favoring privatizing our schools, giving vouchers to private school families, at the expense of public school students and their families. The Oklahoma branch of Ms. DeVos’s foundation, Oklahoma Federation for Children funded attack ads against several of the “Teacher Caucus” candidates in the last election, using their out-of-state funds to blanket districts with what we are now seeing in our district. Vouchers and privatizing schools are their core issues. In the last election cycle, OFC spent $190,000 to attack Teacher Caucus candidates, $180,000 of which came from the National Federation for Children (Oklahoma Watch 1/10/17).

 While we must wonder about the independence of a candidate who would accept assistance from OFC and NFC, we will never doubt Jacob’s support of public schools and adequate funding for our core services.  

Jacob is the independent voice for all of HD46."