In a wide array of conversations I have had these past few days—with parents, students, colleagues, and confused citizens—I have come to realize that so many of us are operating on different degrees of fragmented information. Most of us are trying to stay informed, but we have lives and full-time jobs, and it’s not easy to find consistent, reliable sources for information.
But, we try.
I have also talked with many folks who didn’t even realize how deep and widespread the talked-about revenue failure would affect us all. They had heard that the budget was tight, but it didn’t seem that strange since that describes most of our daily lives. However, recent events affecting our schools, hospitals, and other local programs have gotten our attention and concern. Unfortunately, many people don’t know where to turn for information. Especially if that information is worded in language that seems angry or partisan, many people tune out. Though that is always a personal choice, if we want to stay informed about these crucial issues directly affecting our lives, we will have to suspend that sensitivity in order to read the information and meaning behind the words. These topics are urgent and dire, and sometimes the frustrated voices of the writers pokes through. That said, I think we are all mature enough to read past someone’s frustrated language to understand their message.
I’ve been working on this and one other blog post for the last five days. I wanted to publish four days ago, but just about the time I think I’m finished, some other breaking news pops up, regarding public education and Oklahoma’s revenue failure. What went from a bombshell a day is now flowing in every few hours. So, before I carry on with other blog posts, I think it might be wise to back up a minute and give some context to what informs my future posts (and my everyday actions). Here are just a few of these breaking stories that paint such a bleak picture for our state:
Don’t forget, prior to this latest siege of news stories and political battles, communities were just beginning to learn how deep these cuts would be when they started getting letters from their local schools about drastic measures having to be implemented, just to make it to June 30, 2016, the end of the fiscal year, let alone prepare for another year of austerity. Reluctantly, dedicated school officials are now having to cut programs, positions, and even calendar days. We also fought and won against school consolidations and vouchers, both of which are particularly threatening to rural schools.
These standards were designed over this past year by Oklahoma teachers for Oklahoma public schools to replace Common Core State Standards, which were not designed by our state nor by anyone with public school teaching experience. This article, linked in the heading above, outlines the timeline by which this change took place and illustrates the quality of the new standards.
However, there were a couple of groups who felt these standards were too similar to Common Core, so a media battle occurred in a short amount of time, with Rep. Dan Fisher taking it all the way to the national level by appearing on Glen Beck’s show. Beck then got involved and ended up calling Oklahoma teachers “weasels.” I’m not a fan of Beck nor do I understand why a non-educator and non-Oklahoman would want to weigh in on Oklahoma Academic Standards, but it is not uncommon for such things to provide political fodder for those seeking attention.
This kerfuffle went on for several speed rounds, but by an organized act of inaction, the new Oklahoma Academic Standards will go into effect for the upcoming school year, mostly intact.
Due to two revenue failures, the state agency that oversees Medicaid in Oklahoma recently announced it will have to cut medical reimbursements by 25%. This not only cuts the medical assistance our low-income families rely on, but it also jeopardizes rural physicians and hospitals, especially in rural areas,…and all the families they bring to our communities. (I have just recently heard a rustling of news that might suggest there is hope for this issue, yet.)
Due to two revenue failures, around 73,000 Oklahomans will lose access to mental health services in Oklahoma. Too many young people in Oklahoma need these services as we see increases in depression, anxiety, and other conditions. In addition, many of our students’ parents need these services to fulfill their parenting obligations. Life is hard, but for those with conditions that hinder daily coping and especially for those without the ability to pay for these services, it will only get worse. Teachers don’t work in a sterile bubble. When students struggle at home, it comes to class. By law, teachers must report students in need, but that seems futile now.
Starting July 1, the Start Right program that provides support and resources to new parents to improve parenting skills in order to reduce child abuse, which runs too rampant in Oklahoma, will be eliminated, hurting about 700 families in our communities. I needn’t tell you the impact this has on our schools, let alone our world!
Families dependent on state supplementary payments expect their checks at the first of each month. These checks are supplementary but nonetheless vital to these families’ subsistence. These people are part of our teaching village. Imagine getting this letter just a couple of days before your bills are due?
The sudden shift to quarterly payments might make sense on a spreadsheet, but these are people’s lives we’re talking about. Living month to month suggests that many of these 88,000 recipients might not have an address to which their July check may be sent. Seeing that July 1 is the beginning of the new fiscal year, this seems like the old rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul method of doing business.
Now, some of these issues I’m reporting here may have turned around. I, like many Oklahomans, have stayed busy these past weeks, researching issues and contacting Oklahoma legislators and other elected officials, and occasionally, we hear that Congress did a turnaround. Public outrage can have an effect, if we act promptly, clearly, and respectfully. Nonetheless, I still feel they need to be contacting us more instead of us using chunks of our busy, professional days having to tell them our thoughts on each and every bill. But, I digress (see last post on March 25 about my idea to streamline this communication).
Also, if you haven’t heard, after some reluctance, Oklahoma leadership has agreed to tap into the Rainy Day Fund to help defray some of these budget cuts. Though approximately $51 million will go to education, $16 million is earmarked to cover mandated benefits (e.g., health insurance). That leaves $35 million to be applied the $109 million deficit in public education budgets, leaving our already-strapped schools to share in the mindboggling $74 million cuts. I believe all of us have fallen on hard times before. These Rainy Day Funds help and are appreciated, but let’s not over-appreciate them. It’s like being told your salary has been cut so deeply that you can’t pay your utilities or rent, but there might just be enough to buy a few groceries. These revenue failures threaten to put our public schools out on the streets.
Though some of these issues I detail about don’t seem to be about public education, I promise you they have a palpable impact! These cuts are touching the lives of the poorest in our state, our neighbors who struggle to pay bills, feed their children, and deal with medical issues. So, when these families suffer, those suffering children come to school, in more need of our help than ever before! Check out this interactive map to see what the poverty level is in your county (as of 2014, and long before the revenue failure reached epic proportions):
© Oklahoma Watch 2014
Staying informed is hard. I know how much time and energy I invest daily to keep up as best I can, and it is still not enough. That is why I really appreciate the many resources to which I can subscribe and follow: blogs, websites, Facebook groups, and newsgroups. I have only dipped my toe into the deep and replenishing waters of Twitter, but if you tweet, there are many good sources there, too. To make it easier on you, I will list some of my favorites here. If you don’t already follow them, I encourage you to check them out and let them bring the news to you:
Other groups to follow via Facebook:
- Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education
- EFFORT SOS
I follow many others, some of which are not particularly public-ed friendly, but I like to see what others think. I won’t list them here, though, as I don’t endorse them. I encourage you to explore and subscribe to some sites that will help you stay informed.
Our Teaching Village Needs You!
Note: I have included many active links in this post, if you want to learn more. Some of you already know much more than I do. Either way, feel free to add questions or provide more information in the comments below. This post is a cursory attempt to sum up these last few crazy days!
Also, I’ll just leave this here: Construction to begin on Oklahoma Capitol