Finally, Back to School

Rep. Chuck and Angela Strohm (Tulsa Dist. 69)

While milling around at church after Easter Service, I was asked the following question: “What can we pray about so that the legislature is willing to fix the injustice that has been done to our teachers?”

At that very moment, I realized that the legislature and the governor have lost the discussion. We have failed at getting the truth about education out to the public.

When normal people believe that our teachers are victims of “injustice” perpetrated by the legislature, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) has won the discussion.

By his own admission, he has only heard one side of the story, and he sought me out to hear the other side.  Much of what I am about to share with you I shared with him, so I hope you find this information helpful.

What is the injustice he was talking about?  He explained that the injustice that was being done to our teachers was the fact that they asked for a $10,000 pay raise, but the legislature gave them only a $6,000 pay raise.  Why couldn’t we give them the full amount, he asked.

Who sets teachers’ salaries?  There is a mistaken belief that the legislature sets actual teacher salaries.  This is simply NOT true.  Your local school board and superintendents set your teacher salaries, so if you are unhappy with your salaries, your fight should be with them.

Years ago, the legislature set a minimum wage for teachers with the hope that this would improve teacher pay. Instead, it backfired, because it moved the focus from your local school board to the legislature.

Do all districts pay the minimum salary schedule?  Absolutely not!  The narrative that all Oklahoma schools pay the minimum is simply not true.  No one is allowed to pay less, and many pay more.  That is the trouble with minimum wages: instead of allowing the free market to set teacher salaries through competition, we have a minimum wage mindset that keeps wages low.

Rep. Chuck Strohm

Does Strohm support a Teacher Pay Raise?  Of course!  When Rep. Rogers (from Broken Arrow) drafted his first teacher pay raise bill a couple years ago, I was one of the first co-authors.  I voted for the teacher pay raise March 26th (HB1023xx).

There is a false narrative that by voting against the tax increases during special session, we somehow don’t support a teacher pay raise.  This simply is NOT true.

How much does a teacher pay raise actually cost?  I frequently ask this question because very few people know how much a teacher pay raise costs.  Just think about this for a moment:  People lobby for hundreds of millions of dollars without any idea how much something actually costs.  This is the essence of Socialism, and I believe the problem stems from the fact that we live in a culture of handouts without any accountability.

Let’s provide some data related to this pay raise (from NEA):  Oklahoma has 42,435 teachers.  We have 7,319 support staff that are included in the teacher pay raise.  We have approx. 80,000 people employed in the public-school system.  When we include payroll taxes and benefits, the cost of a $1,000 pay raise for just our 42,435 teachers plus 7,319 support staff is a little over $57 million.

Details about the Pay Raise from last week:  In the four years that I have served, the legislature has been told by our constituents, articles in the Oklahoman & Tulsa World, the State Department of Education, the OEA, and by teachers themselves that the number one thing we need to fix is teacher pay.  If anyone argues that anything else was on the priority list, they are not being honest.

Just a few details about this historic pay raise:  The average raise will be almost $6,100.  That’s $5,000 (15.8% raise) for new teachers, $7,700 (18.2% raise) for veteran teachers, and now almost 53% of the appropriated budget is dedicated to education (up from 51%).   The pay raise moves us to…number two in the region in teacher pay…

A little math…and who is telling the truth?  The problem with engineers is that we actually run the numbers rather than just believing what we are told.  So, let’s do a little math (using the latest NEA data available).  Oklahoma has 692,670 students.  Oklahoma has 49,754 instructional staff who just received a 16–18% pay raise.  This includes: 42,435 teachers, 7,319 counselors, librarians, etc.  That’s 16.3 students per teacher.  Teachers have been telling me all week that they have 28–30 kids per classroom, yet the NEA data says we have 16.3 kids per teacher.  I would say we have a problem.  Assuming 28 kids per classroom, you end up with 24,738 actual classroom teachers since we have 692,670 students.  Whether we have 42,435 teachers or 25,000 teachers, one fact remains – fewer than half of the people employed by schools are teachers!  If you want to know where your classroom dollars are going, now you know.

The definition of a teacher.  A big part of the problem is based upon the definition of a teacher, which I addressed in HB 3218 in 2016, and which the education lobby changed back to the following definition in 2017:  “Teacher means any person who is employed to serve as district superintendent, principal, supervisor, counselor, librarian, school nurse or classroom teacher, or in any other instructional, supervisory, or administrative capacity, is defined as a teacher.  Such person shall not be deemed qualified unless the person holds a valid certificate issued by and in accordance with the rules of the State Board of Education, to perform the particular services for which the person is employed” (70 O.S. § 1116(1)).

In the end, the growth in administrative staffing is significantly greater than the increase in student population.  It is time for reform.

Integrity – what are we teaching our children?  Have you ever seen the Charlie Brown cartoon where Lucy moves the football at the moment Charlie Brown kicks the ball?  He goes flying through the air, and Lucy thinks that is the funniest thing.  That is what the teachers who are telling us that they are not going home until the legislature funds education just did to the legislature.

This week I have spent many hours visiting with teachers who have abandoned their classroom in order to lobby the legislature for more money.  This whole thing makes no sense.  If you wanted classroom dollars rather than a teacher pay raise, I wish you had told us that to start with.

I would like to ask our teachers that have walked out and won’t go back until we pass more tax increases: what are you teaching our children?  Is it OK to break your word?  Because the contract you signed last summer said that you would not strike.  While you may be calling it a walkout, everyone, including the kids, knows what is going on.

Every time a teacher brings a group of kids to the capitol to lobby me for more money my heart sinks, because I hear these kids repeating the rhetoric of the OEA.  If you don’t like the legislature, then visit me personally and stop using your students to try and manipulate the legislature – it does not work.

So what is the teacher walkout really all about?  After spending many hours meeting with teachers this week, a common theme is emerging.  First, let’s settle one fact:  the $6,100 pay raise beats anything discussed over the last four years and is 22% more than the $5,000 pay raise promised by the Step-Up Plan just one month ago.  Put simply, once the legislature delivered, the OEA had to come up with a new reason for existing.  After all, they could not let the Republican legislature succeed at supporting education.

The OEA knows that only way to get Republicans replaced by Democrats and/or liberal Republicans is to stir up trouble.  This walkout is not about classroom dollars; it is about elections.

Sadly, many well-meaning teachers are up at the capitol repeating OEA talking points, not realizing that they are disheartening the very legislators that worked so hard to pass a massive teacher pay raise.  In the end, this walkout is about setting the bar so high that no one can reach it, and that is exactly what has been done.  Lucy is laughing at Charlie Brown once again.

The battle is with the School Board and Superintendents, not the legislature.  An honest review of the NEA data makes it is clear that education is very poorly run.  Time and time again, people want the legislature to solve all of their problems and fund everything to 100%; yet no one wants to have an honest discussion about reforms that will help make [public] education a more enjoyable workplace for our teachers and a great place for our kids to attend school.  Please stop blaming the legislature for every problem and realize that your issue is with the state department and your local leadership, not with us.

It’s time for REFORM.  I don’t know about you, but I find all these facts very troubling.  After four years of digging into the data and running into roadblock after roadblock when speaking with the education community, I realize that it is time for you to say enough is enough.

In 2016 I was responsible for getting the definition of a teacher changed because I knew the legislature would one day fund a teacher pay raise, and I wanted to make sure the money went to the right people.  Sadly, in 2017, legislators who protect the status quo in education undid this change.

Today, teachers are crying for more money from the legislature to reduce class sizes when the real problem is the education establishment whose sole purpose is to grow their kingdom.

For two years I authored transparency bills requiring districts to simply post their school board financials online.  These were simple but effective bills that met untimely death at the hands of the education legislators.  Last year I authored a bill to require detailed audits of K-12 education, but the bill never received a hearing.  This sort of nonsense has been going on for too long.  Until true reform happens, we will never truly fix education in Oklahoma.

In conclusion, a little background about my values.  My value system was developed many years before serving you, the people I represent, and I take the promises made to my voters very seriously.  That is why it I fight for smaller government, fewer taxes and more personal responsibility.  It is also why I have fought so hard to ensure that a teacher pay raise goes to our classroom teacher rather than admin staff…  I have been asked many times to change my values and vote for tax increases, grow government and abandon the idea of accountability in government.  I will not do that.
Editor’s Note:  This article was originally published on April 5, 2018, under his “Inside the Capitol” blog and later cursed by Oklahoma Leftist/Marxist media then carried by John Michener in a newsletter to conservatives statewide.

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