Remember a few weeks ago when White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told America we need to cut funding for Meals on Wheels for senior citizens and after-school nutrition programs for poor children because those programs, well … “aren’t showing any results.”
“They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no evidence they’re helping results, helping kids do better in school, which is what — when we took your money from you to say, we’re going to spend them on after-school program, we justified it by saying these kids will do better in school and get jobs. We have no proof that’s helping.”
I read somewhere that sarcasm is the body’s natural defense for stupidity.
So, here it comes. I can’t help it.
Dammit kids! Get out there and do better in school so you can get jobs and we can know that feeding you is worth our money. We not going to continue to waste taxpayers’ dollars just so you kids can go home and not focus on how hungry you are all night. If you want OUR food, we expect better than C’s on that report card. Maybe missing a few meals might motivate you little slackers to work a little harder. Find you some grit and quit your bitchin’.
Seriously folks. Do we really need a reason to feed hungry children?
The unfortunate truth is that Mr. Mulvaney is simply articulating a mindset shared by a large number of policy makers across the nation.
This is particularly true when it comes to funding of public education.
How many times have we been told by Oklahoma lawmakers over the past few years that Oklahoma schools are better funded than ever; that our schools are bloated with wasteful spending; that Oklahoma superintendents make way too much money; and that we will never be satisfied with ANY amount of money, so why try?
Supporting each of these narratives is the unstated premise, “Why should we give you more money if we’re not seeing results?” (by results, they mean higher test scores, of course)
The converse of this proposition is equally damaging: “We’ve cut education funding yet schools are still getting fairly similar results.” In short, the sky has not fallen.
Regardless of which argument you choose, the bottom line for many policy makers in Oklahoma is that there really isn’t an education funding crisis.
Therefore, all of the tales of gloom and doom have just been concocted by greedy school superintendents, teacher unions, and the education monopoly to milk the taxpayer, with no added accountability and little return on investment.
For some, the fact that we manage to put warm bodies in most classrooms means we don’t have a teacher shortage. If there are still teachers to hire, we must be paying enough.
If we can sustain a 27% cut in per pupil funding over 10 years and still keep our schools open, we had too much money to begin with.
And, if you follow this logic all the way down the rabbit hole, we really don’t have a problem after all.
There’s no emergency, no need for panic.
Those of us who work in schools know the reality all too well.
While many states have continued to increase their investment in public education since 2008, in Oklahoma, we’ve been cut nearly 27 percent in per-pupil funding, adjusted for inflation.
That figure not only leads the nation but is nearly double the percentage of cuts made by Alabama, the second worst state for educating funding reductions.
It’s hard to believe that publicity like this enhances our reputation as a good place to live and do business.
For three consecutive years, Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to general school funding, but state lawmakers have still not made any meaningful efforts to reverse the cuts.
Between FY 2016 and FY 2017, Oklahoma cut per pupil aid another 2.9 percent after inflation, the fourth deepest cut in the nation.
These sharp cuts in funding have been felt in the classroom. Average teacher salaries have dropped more than $7,700 after inflation since 2009 as Oklahoma loses experienced teachers to other professions and other states with more competitive teacher pay.
Numerous Oklahoma districts have gone to a 4-day school week, which can especially harm the thousands of Oklahoma children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to have enough nutritious food. (Oh, I know. There is no evidence that any of these children have starved to death so maybe we were wasting money anyway – right, Mr. Mulvaney?)
Since 2010, the Legislature has suspended and never restored standards to keep class sizes low and to update textbooks and library materials.
The failure to bring back school support to 2008 levels means that schools have spent nine years trying to cut our way to health. That means new programs have not been launched, and when new mandates come from the state capital, there is zero chance of whipping up enthusiastic local support for them because everyone knows that a new program means an old program must bite the dust.
Some schools, in trying to avoid the pain, have prolonged it. Maybe we can just squeak by this year and next year things will be better, they think. But then next year comes, and funding doesn’t, and so every year means more cuts, more unfilled positions, more necessary spending unaddressed.
Unfilled positions also translates to larger classes and heavier workloads for teachers, even as more demands are made to increase tests scores and school A-F grades.
Do more with less. After almost a decade, many schools in Oklahoma are accepting this as the new normal.
And that is corrosive for morale. Oklahoma schools are learning to live with a scarcity mindset. Why even think of new ideas? There won’t be money for them.
To make things worse, we are already bracing for additional cuts for FY-2018.
Oklahoma City Public Schools recently announced the proposed closing of five schools. Tulsa Public Schools are asking for community input to address a potential budget shortfall of $12 million next year. In most districts, pay for almost all school employees has been stagnant for eight years while family health care costs continue to explode.
And if you are a teacher starting to feel stress about how you’ll support your family on a paycheck that is shrinking in real dollars, there’s no end in sight for that.
If Oklahoma lawmakers need evidence of the negative impact that inadequate funding of education and low teacher salaries have on our state, maybe they should ask some of our recent university graduates why they’re moving to Texas.
The answer is rather obvious.
Do we really need more evidence to know we have a funding crisis?
Photo credit: Dr. Rick Cobb (from a recent job fair at Oklahoma State University)