Exploring the crisis in funding and teachers’ salaries
Thursday, April 12, 2018
When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ripped Oklahoma teachers last week for not serving their students, she inadvertently shed light on a problem that is tearing the K-12 system apart.
The issue is not the teachers and the missed classes. It is the intrinsic detachment of lawmakers and decision-makers from the reality of our educational needs. Some teachers complained that DeVos has not visited enough schools in underfunded regions and therefore has no idea of what they need.
That may be, but can a two-hour visit offer her enough insight to fathom the depth of the problem?
People who sit at the helm of such power need to train themselves first. They need to empathize. They need to understand the fundamental truth about the U.S. education system: We are obligated to provide the best education to all children. No exclusions.
To get there, we need great teachers. It is a wonder that we have such motivated and invested teachers in the face of constant budget cuts and minimal-to-no salary increase for years. They believe in their work and have even used their humble wages to buy classroom tools for their students when the funding dried up.
This doesn't quite sound the First World nation that we are, does it?
Teacher shortages and budget cuts have been talked about and debated for decades. We have become too used to these debates and don't dwell on them anymore. The teachers' strike in Oklahoma entered its ninth day today, and it has brought some disturbing facts to the forefront.
Torn textbooks held together by duct tape, broken and missing classroom tools, and absolute lack of modern assessing tools are rampant in most regions. The entire nation should be shameful about the outdated Oklahoma textbooks — the history books still have George W. Bush as the current president!
First West Virginia, and now Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers have walked out of their classrooms and marched to the state capitols to protest such injustice. They are done waiting for reforms to happen and are now demanding an increase in their wages as well as in school funding.
Due to so many teachers protesting, all public schools in these states had to shut down. This drew a lot of criticism from government authorities. But teachers across the country supported their move as did parents, marking this movement as their breaking point.
Parents are tired of compromising on their children's future. Teachers are tired of out-of-pocket expenses and raising money for their underfunded classrooms.
A recent Vox article analyzed the crisis and shed light on the probable cause — tax cuts for the rich that have dried up funds for public schools. About 10-15 years ago, when oil prices were high, the Oklahoma state economy was booming. During these years, the state offered significant tax cuts for the rich but also funded public services like education.
However, after the 2008 stock market crash and subsequent recession, the tax cuts for wealthy Oklahomans continued, but the schools were underfunded.
Before state and federal officials criticize teachers for their protests, they need to understand that raising wages by a few percentage points is not enough. As one Oklahoma district superintendent put it, it would take $1 million to replace the outdated math textbooks in just his district alone. One can only imagine the cost to update the tools and resources for all subjects.
Expecting school districts to raise this kind of money is unfair. It's no wonder the teachers are frustrated. They cannot make a difference in their students' lives, no matter how hard they try.
According to the National Education Association, Oklahoma teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. A 5 percent raise, as what happened for teachers in West Virginia, is not enough. They may need to demand a 20 percent raise, like teachers in Arizona, who just found out they'll be getting their wish.
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