BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Will Rogers said, “This country has come to feel the same way when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer. It’s just a question of how much damage he can do with it before you can take it away from him.”
Well, the state Legislature is scheduled to reconvene next week and Oklahoma parents and teachers are sincerely concerned that the “help” that public schools have received over the past few years will continue. For instance, the Legislature has “helped” by cutting funding to K-12 schools by almost 25%, after inflation, since 2008.
Other “helps” have been making sure that teacher pay stays low, passing legislation to allow corporate charter schools in rural school districts over the objection of the local school board and local citizens, and “assisting” teachers by making it inconvenient to pay professional dues.
While the damage the Legislature has done in recent years is not limited to public education, it seems that during this year of “double” revenue failure and next year’s billion-dollar budget hole “plans” by “helpful” legislators are a dime a dozen.
With all the coming “help,” now would be a good time for television stations to start running “Duck and Cover” as a public service announcement. “Duck and Cover” is a civil defense film created during the Cold War era to teach about personal protection in the event of an atomic bomb explosion.
The opening animation in the 1951 film shows Bert the Turtle sauntering peacefully along a road. As Bert walks past a monkey dangling from a tree and holding a stick of dynamite, the narrator begins to sing, “There was a turtle by the name of Bert and Bert the turtle was very alert; When danger threatened him he never got hurt; He knew just what to do … He’d Duck! and Cover! … Duck! and Cover! … He did just what we all must do … Duck, and Cover!”
A senator from Oklahoma City wants to “help” by consolidating rural schools, eliminating “some” tax credits and diverting up to $200 million per year of new “phantom” revenue growth into a fund for teacher pay.
A powerful senator from the Bartlesville area floated the immediate forced merger of 34 of our smallest schools. Within three years 99 more schools having up to 250 students would be forced to merge within three years and, finally, within four years 164 more schools with enrollments up to 500 would be force merged. These forced mergers would affect 297 school districts, 79,000 students and countless rural communities over a four-year period.
A senator from Guthrie and a representative from Tecumseh plan to help teacher pay by diverting money from other agencies, making government more efficient and eliminating a few “overly generous tax credits.”
Of course, the speaker of the House has made it clear that K-12 funding cannot be protected because that protection would “devastate” all other government functions. Some school districts even fear that cuts may decrease the amount paid by the state for employee health insurance premiums.
According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Oklahoma personal income tax rate cuts since 2005 have resulted in an annual state revenue decrease of $1.022 Billion. In return, the median Oklahoma household has received an Oklahoma income tax cut of $19 per month.
Even if “Duck and Cover” fails to protect us from “helpful” legislators, the drill may actually save lives protecting students from the ever increasing number of earthquakes and from tornadoes in those schools that do not have funding for storm shelters.
How long is baby going to have the hammer?
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House