We all personally know or have heard about teachers that are leaving the State of Oklahoma to go teach in other states. For instance, it was recently well publicized that Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year, is one of thousands of Oklahoma teachers leaving Oklahoma for Texas for more money (to the tune of about $40,000 a year more for both him and his wife, who is also a teacher). But it is not just for the increased salary, in those other states, they will have numerous other teaching advantages like smaller class sizes and fewer classes. Further, these other states have support services available like counselors, librarians, and even janitorial services, which are now areas that many Oklahoma schools are asking teachers to help cover, in order to make ends meet. Here, they are forced to use textbooks and other materials that are worn out and out of date. Elective classes that enrich the learning and the teaching experiences are being eliminated right and left. Many other Oklahoma teachers are staying put, but simply leaving the profession by retirement or going into other lines of work.
And the problems are not just money issues. Many teachers, rightfully so, perceive an openly hostile attitude of anti-education disrespect, most prominently coming directly from the State Legislature. Obviously, legislators know more about education, specifically what needs to be taught and how to teach it, than educators do, and that is why the legislature is constantly tinkering with the curricula and teaching standards. Obviously, teacher unions are the work of the devil and instead of working with the teachers and their representative groups to make the educational experience more productive and rewarding both for the teachers and the students, the legislature has deliberately pursued a course of action to destroy those unions and force teachers out of them. The net result of all of this is that the legislature is also constantly having to lower the qualifications to be a teacher in Oklahoma and the State Department of Education is having to issue emergency teacher certifications in record numbers to replace teachers as quickly as possible. In other words, our teacher pool is becoming less and less qualified every day. And these are long-term issues as the stream of college students studying to become teachers, is simply drying up. Time was when there were thirty or more applicants for every opening for a teacher position, and school districts were blessed with getting to pick the best. Today, it is not unusual to have no applicants for an opening.
The problems are not just with K-12 education; they are just as profound, if not more so, at the higher education level. Not only are they similarly damaging faculty quality at colleges and universities, the budget cuts are driving up the cost of tuition and fees, which means we are taking the opportunity for a college education away from more individuals and more families. Those that can still afford to go are simply paying more for less. The largest single roadblock to economic development in Oklahoma, has never been workers’ compensation, right to work or tort reform issues, but rather, an inadequately educated and trained work force. And so we are making the problem worse.
But, as much as it is a tragedy that these educators are leaving the profession and the state, the damage is going well beyond just that. Recently, a young, nice, family with well-educated parents informed us they were leaving the state out of concern for the future of their children. They want their children to get the best education possible; they want reasonable health care; they want their children to grow up in a community where they have the prospects of a meaningful career and a happy life. And, they, as a family, have concluded that is not going to happen in Oklahoma. They are not alone. This is happening more and more all the time. I know of several other young families across the state that have recently reached the same conclusion or are in the midst of the same deliberations.
The real catastrophe is that all of this is so unnecessary. The solution is not that hard. The legislature needs to quit pandering to the big oil companies and millionaires (i.e., those that make big political contributions). Oklahoma has simply set aside the great American dream for those that have already achieved it, and is doing everything it can to keep anyone else from ever reaching it. And for some inexplicable reason, that seems to be okay with the majority of Oklahomans, even those that are being locked out. It is time to wake up, Voters, and look at what you are doing to the future of this state, to your future and that of your family.
Galations 6:9 Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.