Eric Blanc wrote a comprehensive and excellent article in Jacobin about the dire condition of public schools in Oklahoma. Given the legislature’s indifference, even hostility, to public schools, he says it is Oklahoma’s turn to strike.

State legislators haven’t been able to find enough money to pay for public schools, but they have found it easy to divert money from their resource-starved public schools to pay for charter schools.

Blanc says that the purposeful gutting of public schools has been the project of free market fundamentalists. But it did not start with them.

I urge you to read the whole article. Here is an excerpt.

He writes:


Demanding major increases in pay and school funding, Oklahoman educators are set to strike on April 2. The similarities with West Virginia are obvious. In a Republican-dominated state with a decimated education system and a ban on public employee collective bargaining, an indignant workforce teetering on the edge of poverty has initiated a powerful rank-and-file upsurge. But history never repeats itself exactly. To strike and win, Oklahoma workers will have to overcome a range of distinct challenges and obstacles.

Years of austerity have devastated Oklahoma’s education system, as well as its public services and infrastructure. Since 2008, per-pupil instructional funding has been cut by 28 percent — by far the worst reduction in the whole country. As a result, a fifth of Oklahoma’s school districts have been forced to reduce the school week to four days.

Textbooks are scarce and scandalously out of date. Innumerable arts, languages, and sports courses or programs have been eliminated. Class sizes are enormous. A legislative deal to lower class sizes — won by a four-day strike in April 1990 — was subsequently ditched because of a funding shortage. Many of Oklahoma’s 695,000 students are obliged to sit on the floor in class.

The gutting of public education has been accompanied by a push for vouchers and, especially, the spread of charter schools. There are now twenty-eight charter school districts and fifty-eight charter schools across Oklahoma. “Is the government purposively neglecting our public schools to give an edge to private and charter schools?” asked Mickey Miller, a Tulsa teacher and rank-and-file leader. For Christy Cox — a middle-school teacher in Norman who has had to work the night shift at Chili’s to supplement her low wages — reversing these school cuts is her main motivation to strike: “The kids aren’t getting what they need. It’s really crazy. Though the media doesn’t talk about this as much as salaries, I feel that funding our schools is the primary issue.”

Pay, of course, is also a central grievance. Oklahoma’s public school teachers and staff haven’t gotten a raise in ten years – and state workers have waited nearly as long. Public school teacher pay is the forty-eighth worst in the nation. Like in West Virginia, many teachers are unwilling or unable to work in these conditions. Roughly two thousand teaching positions are currently filled by emergency-certified staff with no teaching degrees and little training. Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s main teachers’ union, explains that “our teacher shortage has reached catastrophic levels because it’s so easy for teachers to move to Texas or Arkansas, or even to another profession, and make much more money.”

Those teachers and staff who stay in state are often forced to work multiple jobs. Micky Miller’s experience is not atypical. During the day, Miller teaches at Booker T. Washington high school in Tulsa. After the school day is over, he works until 7:30 PM at the airport, loading and unloading bags from Delta airplanes. From there, he goes on to his third job, coaching kids at the Tulsa Soccer Club. “I have a master’s degree, and I have to work three jobs just to make ends meet,” he noted. “It’s very difficult to live this way.”

The roots of this crisis are not hard to find. Taxes have not been raised by the Oklahoma legislature since 1990. Due to a right-wing 1992 anti-tax initiative, a supermajority of 75 percent of legislators is now needed to impose new taxes. Yet the need for a supermajority was not a major political issue until very recently, since there has been a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of cutting taxes. Some of the first major tax breaks for the rich and corporations began in 2004 under Democratic governor Brad Henry and a Democratic-led Senate. One recent study estimates that $1 billion in state revenue has been lost yearly due to the giveaways pushed through since the early 2000s.

Republicans swept into the state government in 2010 and promptly accelerated this one-sided class war. Governor Mary Fallin and the Republican legislature have slashed income taxes for the rich. They have also passed huge breaks for the oil and gas companies — not a minor issue in a state that is the third-largest producer of natural gas and fifth-largest producer of crude oil in the country. Even the fiscal fallout of the 2014 oil bust did not lead the administration to reverse course….


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