Yesterday I was sitting in the office talking to some of the Oklahoma’s Children, Our Future petition circulators during the weekly signature turn-in day. It’s a busy day in the office. People are coming in with hundreds of signatures from folks all across the state who want to improve our education system and get the initiative on the ballot in November.
Then my phone started buzzing. At first, I thought it was no big deal. I mean, it could be a Twitter notification or a new email.
But it was a very big deal.
It was a text message letting me know Oklahoma City Public Schools will be cutting 208 teaching positions.
My heart sank. Here I was sitting in the campaign office with volunteers and staff all working tirelessly to get an education funding initiative on the ballot this November. The stakes couldn't be higher, and the text message announcing the cuts just made the work we were all doing on the ballot measure more important than ever.
The announcement comes just a few days after reading a heartbreaking tweet from a school principal.
You see, I tune in to the Oklahoma education (#OklaEd) chat that takes place on Sunday evenings. Hundreds of Oklahoma educators “meet up” each week on Twitter to share best practices and help each other. During this week’s #OklaEd chat, moderator Jason James started the conversation by posting a simple question:
Q1) What is the most pressing issue for you as an #oklaed educator? Budget, T Shortage, RIF, class size, Standards, pay, or something else?
— Dr. Jason James (@James409Jason)
The responses were sobering. But none more than this one:
A1) calming the fears of teachers on temporary contracts and elective teachers #OklaEd— Adam McPhail (@JMSprincipal)
This tweet by the Jones Middle School principal was so disheartening, and today’s news of teacher cuts serves to remind us how true these fears are.
No educator’s first priority should be calming the fears of teachers worried that massive budget cuts could cost them their job. But in this funding crisis, that’s exactly what’s happening.
It’s difficult to plan long term when you are managing one day, one crisis at a time. For school leaders, it means they are often forced to make decisions based on keeping the lights on, or if they should cut art, drama, or AP and elective classes instead of focusing on long-term, strategic planning and supporting teachers to improve student outcomes.
These are the true consequences of the budget cuts, and they are harming Oklahoma students.
Anyone who’s ever had to live paycheck to paycheck and manage their life in crisis mode knows what a struggle that can be. It’s no way to live--and it’s nearly impossible to get ahead. Yet, that’s the situation our schools, our teachers, and ultimately our students are facing on a daily basis.
We can’t expect educators to move mountains when it comes to student outcomes if we fail to support them with appropriate funding. And we can’t expect schools to thrive when they are in a constant state of crisis.
That’s why I think now, more than ever, this initiative petition is so important. We simply can’t afford to wait any longer.
These tough times are forcing our educators to make tough choices. The success of the signature collection process (234,000 and counting in just over a month's time) gives me hope that help is on the way. Yesterday's news and that eye-opening tweet lead me to ask this basic question: Oklahoma, aren’t we better than this?