Melissa Smith is a teacher at US Grant High School in Oklahoma City and a member of the AFT. She writes here about the effect of dramatic budget cuts on her school.

Unless you are in a school every day, you might not see the results of underfunding education. That is because we open our doors no matter what, and my colleagues and I will do everything we can to make sure our students get the education they deserve. But just because the consequences are invisible doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Isn’t that the definition of privilege? Thinking something isn’t a problem simply because it might not be a problem for you?

You have probably heard about the recent teacher walkout in Oklahoma. While some of that was about teacher salaries, it was more about the conditions in our schools – conditions that resulted from years of underfunding education.

The Oklahoma City public schools district is the largest in the state, serving about 46,000 students. Because of relentless decreases in funding from the Oklahoma legislature, our district has had to cut almost $40m in the past two years. This has resulted in our fine arts budgets being slashed by 50%, our library media budgets being completely eliminated and district officials being forced to end the school year days early.

Our school system also has 58 classrooms that are “split-level”. This means a teacher is required to teach two different curricula to two different grade levels at the same time in the same classroom. And our teachers do this without the help of a teaching assistant…

Our classes are extremely overcrowded, with 30 and 40 students per class. Some of us don’t even have enough desks for our students to sit in. Coach Aaron McVay, one of our PE teachers, has had classes of more than 80 students. How much learning happens in a class of 80?

Some teachers don’t even have classrooms. They keep their belongings, textbooks and supplies on carts and push them from classroom to classroom, hour to hour. I have been a traveling teacher. Like some of our fellow union members who are adjunct college professors and hold “office hours” in their cars and nurses who travel from school to school, fingers crossed, hoping no one at a school across town will suffer a health crisis, it is almost impossible to be an effective educator while carting your work around…

The cut that hurt most was losing our two maintenance workers, Gerald and Joe, whose positions were eliminated when our district was forced to cut the first $30m in 2017. Gerald and Joe kept our building running. Without them, nothing seems to work. Last August, we had days without air conditioning. It was common for my classroom to reach 90 degrees by 9am. In fact, Cristina Moershel taught her class outside because it was cooler there than in her classroom. Outside. In August. In Oklahoma. She used a dry erase marker on the window to teach calculus while her students sat on the ground.

Our current history textbook is so old that the Oklahoma City bombing only gets a couple of pages in the epilogue
Now, think about how much these problems would be exacerbated if some of this year’s proposed cuts to federal funding were to go through.

Cuts would make it impossible to retain qualified teachers instead of losing them at the rate of almost 400 per month. If there are cuts to federal programs for low-income students or students with disabilities, what else will my school have to sacrifice to provide the services they need? How will these cuts help students graduate and take on the world?