Thursday, March 22, 2018

Oklahoma Teachers Plan a Strike: “Our Children Cannot Wait any Longer” - John Thompson

I've seen John Thompson's writings since the earliest days of the Ed Notes blog. As in every post I urge you to check out the Ok teacher grassroots leader Larry Cagle phone call to the Jacobin/DSA/MORE/ISO WV conference.

I swear I am going to summarize Larry's points, one of the major ones of which were -- in this battle it's Trump vs Trump. I'm interested in the "how we got here" story. Larry described it and it is must listening stuff.

Oklahoma Teachers Plan a Strike: “Our Children Cannot Wait any Longer”

John Thompson

A seemingly spontaneous teacher revolt in Oklahoma has resulted in a potential statewide walkout to shut down schools beginning April 2. The work stoppage declaration was no doubt sparked by the recently successful West Virginia teachers strike, but the grievances of Oklahoma teachers stem from deeply-rooted fears for their students’ future.

Oklahoma ranks in the top five states for oil and natural gas production, and gives $500 million a year in tax breaks to energy companies. But the state also leads the nation in cutting state funding for education, reducing formula funding by 28 percent since 2008.

While the state has cut taxes on oil, state employees have not received an across-the-board pay raise in twelve years. The state is among the last in the nation in teacher pay. The starting salary for a new teacher is $31,600, and the poor pay and lack of resources has resulted in an acute shortage of teachers across the state.

But because it will take a 75 percent legislative majority to raise taxes, however, the Oklahoma politics are especially complicated. And that is why stakeholders are united in using the term “walkout” instead of “strike.”

Corresponding by email, vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association Shawna Mott-Wright asks, “Can you imagine being a senior in high school? These poor kids have had their education cut, cut, and cut since they were 8 years old. Our children cannot wait any longer.”
“These poor kids have had their education cut, cut, and cut since they were 8 years old. Our children cannot wait any longer.”
The likely walkout grows out of a larger problem. Oklahoma Republicans have sought to shrink government so that it can be drowned in a bathtub. Oklahoma’s children have come of age as the state cut health services; killed the Earned Income Tax Credit for the poorest families; slashed funding for mental health; and undermined other social services (all this as it became first in the nation in incarcerating women). The state is tied with Montana and West Virginia for first in children surviving multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Representative Jacob Rosecrants is a teacher who was recently elected to the state House of Representatives. He taught in my former Oklahoma City public high school classroom, which serves a high number of kids coming from generational poverty. He’s seen firsthand what the walkout is about. In an email Representative Rosecrants wrote, “Oklahoma teachers are standing up, not only for themselves, but for the students they teach. . . .They're fighting hard to help move public education from simple survival to progressive innovation.”

Representative Mickey Dollens is another newly elected teacher. He comes from an 88 percent low-income, 77 percent Latino high school. In an email he described seeing firsthand the difficulty of teaching English to huge classes in “temporary” portable buildings, and in a school where counselors must focus on testing, not addressing the socio-emotional needs of students. This is even more of a challenge when ICE raids student’s homes in search of undocumented immigrants, he said.

It would take about an $800 million tax increase to fund teacher raises and a restoration of basic education and social services. Instead, the state Senate recently passed a proposal for raising $84 million for teacher pay by cutting Medicaid for 43,000 of the poorest Oklahomans.

It’s hard to visualize a positive outcome, but there are reasons for hope.

Oklahomans understand that the walkout campaign is due to a grassroots uprising. The state is long past the point where corporate school reformers and Devos supporters can dismiss unions for promoting adult interests over children’s welfare. A wide range of nonprofits, including the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and parks and recreation centers, are organizing to provide food and safe places for students during the strike. About 300 people gathered recently at the state capitol for a “Churches For Teachers Prayer Vigil.” Even underpaid and overworked Department of Human Services social workers are organizing services for the state’s foster children during the walkouts.
A wide range of nonprofits are organizing to provide food and safe places for students during the strike.
In addition, over fifty school boards, especially from the largest districts, passed resolutions to support teachers during a school shutdowns. Consequently, many teachers might not lose pay during the stoppage.

Oklahoma teachers also say they are inspired by students standing up for Dreamers, and walking out in protest of gun violence.
Oklahoma lawmakers still have time to “prevent the walkout,” says Dollens, “by reversing billions in corporate subsidies and restoring state income tax cuts and the capital gains deduction. The solutions are right in front of us, and the majority party must listen to the people of Oklahoma.”

Until recently, educators did their best for kids by mostly keeping their heads down and quietly persevering. Now it’s different. As Mott-Wright observes, “Our children are watching. Voters are watching. America is watching.”

John Thompson is a former award-winning historian who became an inner city teacher after the “Hoova” set of the Crips took over his neighborhood and he became attached to the kids in the drug houses. Now retired, he is the author of A Teacher’s Tale: Learning, Loving, and Listening to Our Kids.

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