GOP Political Calculation Over Teacher Raises

Was the call among some Republican legislators for teacher raises just a sheer political calculation that made it seemed like they cared when they really knew an increase in pay for educators was never going to happen? It sure seems so now.

About a month ago, I wrote on Okie Funk:

The lack of an agreement on a funding plan may well mean at least some legislators want to be perceived as trying to fight for teacher raises when, in fact, they know that given the dire budget situation there’s no way any significant increase is possible.

So my earlier speculation was correct. There were no raises for teachers in the budget despite calls from Gov. Mary Fallin and House Speaker Charles McCall, both Republicans. In fact, back in April, House Republicans issued a statement that contained this gem of a quote from McCall that made it seemed like teacher raises were a foregone conclusion:

We are including in our budget proposal a line item to fund the first year of the teacher pay raise plan, just as we promised we would do. Our members heard from citizens over and over on the doorstep that a teacher pay raise was a priority of theirs, and it has been one of our top priorities for our members this entire session. The House and the Senate Appropriations Committee have both passed a bipartisan and realistic teacher pay plan that is awaiting the governor’s signature, and the House intends to fund the raise in our budget and send it to the Senate.

Well, that didn’t work out, did it? The lack of any raises for teachers in the budget is a real tragedy for Oklahoma. Teacher pay here ranks 48th in the nation, and teachers are leaving Oklahoma for other states that pay more and offer better benefits. Class sizes are growing, some schools have gone to a four-day week schedule and the state still has a college graduation rate that is significantly lower than the national average. Oh yeah, higher education funding was cut this coming fiscal year by 6.1 percent. Last year, it was cut by 16 percent.

The lack of investment in education here is not a byproduct of the fracking bust and low oil prices. It’s an ongoing Republican strategy to starve schools of needed funding and then claim them “failures.” All the Republican rhetoric about teacher raises this legislative session was political calculation. I would even argue that the Republican base in Oklahoma really doesn’t care all that much about teacher raises.

Sure some Republicans care, and Democrats are decisively in favor of teacher raises and have given legislators some heat on the issue, but until state starts voting to diminish the GOP-majority in a significant manner, nothing is going to happen to improve education funding in Oklahoma.

It may seem too obvious to state at this point, but here it is: The current Republican strategy on the national and state level is to decrease public school funding and to privatize educational systems. There’s no getting around the fact that this a partisan issue. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a breaking point for a voter turnaround right now in Oklahoma.

I hate to state the bad news, but everyone should expect more cuts to education funding this coming year and cuts to most state agencies as the state struggles with likely revenue failures.

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