What Good Am I, Oklahoma?

The Step Up Oklahoma plan to raise revenues to finally address the dire teacher shortage in Oklahoma failed in February 2018 primarily because the minority House Democrats wanted 5% instead of 4% gross production tax for the first 36 months of a well. The Republicans, heavily influenced by the oil oligarchs, refused to go above 4%.

An experienced oil man told Wayne Greene of the Tulsa World that a 1% increase in that tax would be a like a 30-cent decrease in the price of oil over the life of a well. As Greene wrote, “It’s insignificant. It’s less than the rounding error in the pre-drilling projections, my source tells me.”

A significant majority of the House members embraced the Step Up plan, but we need a ridiculously high 75% supermajority to raise taxes in Oklahoma (but only a simple majority to cut them, which is the reason we are in such dire straits). The failure of both parties to embrace an obvious compromise not only killed a desperately needed teacher pay raise to address the teacher shortage, but actually led to another $22 million cut in public school funding to balance the budget. So yet again the schools took the hit from a state revenue failure, on top of multiple past failures that have devastated their budgets.

Greene wrote:

How strange that the marginal difference between a 4 percent gross production tax over the first three years of production and a 5 percent gross production tax over the first three years could shut down any progress.

Logic says that neither side would be fighting if the cause weren’t significant, right? If the distinction for the oil companies’ bottom line is less than the rounding error and the state revenue numbers are less than 10 percent [of the Step Up plan], why would we go to the mattresses?

The only answer I can find is that it’s not about money, it’s about dominance. In the end, this highly technical debate is at least as much about emotions and politics as it is about revenue and policy.

The compromise neither side would embrace earlier this month is obvious. They should soothe the consciences of the ideologues in both parties and the egos of the oil barons by adopting the rest of the Step Up revenue package but increase the GPT to 4.5% to split the difference between the parties’ positions. I’d suggest dedicating the $35 million from the extra 0.5% to increase state worker salaries, which are also desperately low.

Yes, teachers and state workers deserve MUCH more. But this is about COMPROMISE from ALL sides to get over that ludicrous 75% supermajority hurdle. We must stop the bleeding and bind our state’s self-inflicted wounds. It is past time for our legislators from both parties to get off their high horses and shake hands on a compromise to save our schools. That should be the Oklahoma standard.

The failure of our state legislators to reach a compromise has dire consequences for our schoolchildren and the state’s most vulnerable citizens: the poor and the elderly who depend on state services. I ask the legislators who have been voting no, and the partisans who support them, to think about that.

Bob Dylan put it quite well about 30 years ago:

What Good am I

What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

I’ve read that about 40% of state workers now qualify for food stamps, which is abominable.

Meanwhile, the grim state of our public schools is illustrated below:

Enough is enough, legislators. You need to embrace the obvious compromise and GET THIS DONE. If you do not, I guarantee you that parents and teachers will be shutting down the schools across our state this April until you do. We shall wait no longer.

UPDATE: In April Bartlesville schools, and many others statewide, were suspended by a teacher walkout for 8 school days. The threat of the walkout helped prompt the legislature to pass the largest teacher pay increase in state history, ranging from about $5,000-$8,000. During the walkout, another $40 million or so in future funding was earmarked for education. Although Oklahoma teachers will now have a regionally competitive salary for the first time in my career, per pupil funding remains dead last in the region. The state will need to invest even more in its public schools to reduce class sizes and restore lost course electives, etc.

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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4 Responses to What Good Am I, Oklahoma?

  1. Pat Brown says:

    Well said, Granger. Thank you.

  2. Jana says:

    As I watched the board meeting via FB and saw the faces of colleagues—those I marched with in 1990, I was saddened. Saddened that our grandchildren are being granted fewer opportunities in their public school educations. Saddened that 28 years later, the debate is still being had to properly fund education. Saddened that a former principal, student and parent have chosen to not fight for those still in the trenches. Thank you for being willing to speak and to push and to protest.

    • Thanks, Jana. Earl voted yes on the grand compromise of the first special session, which had a $3,000 raise and passed the Senate (despite Sen. Daniels voting no) but failed by 6 votes to reach 75% in the House, where Rep. Dunlap voted no. Earl also voted yes on the Step Up plan in the second session, but Dunlap voted no.

  3. For those wondering if a $5,000 raise will be enough, the answer is that it is probably all we can get in this political climate. It will slow, but not stop, the loss of teachers to Texas and will make us temporarily more competitive with the other neighboring states. Oklahoma has never been good about keeping up with inflation, so we have to instead lobby heavily for periodic boosts. You hope to get ahead for a bit, knowing that as other states raise salaries and we don’t, we will fall behind again. Here are two looks at our relative ranking as of now:

    The results vary with the methodology, but Oklahoma is usually in the 30s among the 50 states when you adjust for cost of living alone. The reason we have a record teacher shortage, with now about 2,000 unqualified teachers requiring emergency certification and us hiring folks we would not have even interviewed in the past, is our relative salary/cost of living compared to our neighbors. For the past 15 or more years, Texas has steadily drained most of our student teachers as they graduated from college, with Missouri and Kansas pulling from the northeastern area. In the past decade even Arkansas has started pulling from the eastern border.

    If you ONLY look at salary and adjust for cost of living, you get:
    Texas: 16th with about $7,000 more relative purchasing power
    Arkansas: 21st with about $4,000 more ” ” ”
    Kansas: 22nd with about $4,000 more ” ” ”
    Missouri: 27th with about $2,000 more ” ” ”
    Oklahoma: 35th
    New Mexico: 42nd with about $1,500 less ” ” ”
    Colorado: 44th with about $1,500 less ” ” ”
    Source: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-06-01-graph-where-do-us-teacher-salaries-really-go-the-furthest

    So a $5,000 raise will make us temporarily competitive with everyone but Texas, but that won’t last.

    More useful to those considering where to get their first job or where to relocate is a data set from WalletHub where they not only included cost of living but factored in change over time, pensions, potential competition for jobs, tenure protections, school quality, spending per student, union strength, etc. to rank states by best to worst to teach in:
    Missouri: 16th
    Texas: 20th
    Kansas: 32nd
    Colorado: 33rd
    Arkansas: 34th
    Oklahoma: 42nd
    New Mexico: 44th
    Source: https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-teachers/7159/

    The legislature’s repeated threats to the teacher pension system and only funding health insurance for the teacher but not their spouse or dependents, and threats to start limiting that, plus the low respect shown to teachers by the legislature, means that even a significant salary boost won’t win over many who are repelled by the state’s anti-progressive stance on most issues and particular disrespect for education by underfunding and micro-managing its common schools and the draconian cuts it has made to public colleges and universities.

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