The Woodward News

Local News

February 13, 2014

Education rally gains momentum

Woodward, Okla. — In what will be the first public rally of its kind on the steps of the Oklahoma Capitol in many years, Woodward educator Michelle McDonald hopes the voices of educators across the state are heard loud and clear.

Oklahoma's Rally for Education is slated to take place on the steps of the Capitol (south side) beginning at 10:30 a.m. March 31st. The event was organized by members across the state of the Oklahoma Education Association and many other organizations dedicated to life-long learning.

"Rallies of this magnitude are reserved for times when the situation has become dire," McDonald said. "It seems that those rallies in the past (only two that McDonald can remember) were indeed successful and our voices were heard."

The last rally organized by educators in Oklahoma took place regarding House Bill 1017 in 1989, according to Woodward Superintendent Tim Merchant.

"This is the first one since 1989 that I can remember, where schools were actually dismissing so their staff have the opportunity to participate," Merchant said.  "Since 1989 there have been groups there, but not this level of participation like it was back then when we were calling form drastic changes in education."

According to McDonald, educators across Oklahoma are alarmed by the current trend they have witnessed recently regarding funding of public education in Oklahoma.

Merchant said funding for pubic education is still at the 2008 funding levels.

Many educators here are afraid the intent of the (state) administration is to further cut public education and start funneling education dollars toward the support of other businesses and agencies, McDonald said.

That opinion was echoed by Merchant.

"In my opinion, our state department of education leadership is trying to move our educational system in a direction of prioritizing and benefiting private schools and charter schools," he said. "It appears to me that the mandates that are being made and the direction of the leadership is geared towards trying to make public school look like failures. All that coupled with the fact that public school funding per student is well below the 2008 funding level, speaks to me that public schools and the public education of the children across this state is not a priority."

Merchant said he and other education administrators across the state want to also use the rally to support State Rep. Lee Denney's House Bill 2642. Denney is a Republican from Cushing.

Merchant said the main focus of HB 2642 revolves around a proposed 10-year increase in funding for public school education.

"The financial mechanism is much like what happened last year for roads and bridges funding," Merchant said.

McDonald mirrors Merchant's comments and for her part, organized the local support for the rally because she too is frustrated by what she feels is a state department that cannot hear the very professionals who make up the system they administer.

McDonald said she has planned to send a large contingent of teachers, administrators and school board members as well as any members of the public who can plan to attend the rally.

"I feel the current administration has proven time and time again they are not willing to give teachers and administrators a voice in how policy is formed," she said. "And sometimes it take rallies of this sort for us to be heard."

On the agenda to discuss at the rally are issues that some educators and parents here believe point to the appearance of the current administration's preference for large corporate entities and oil and energy over the basic needs and services the state provides, McDonald said.

During this legislative session alone, Gov. Fallin and the legislators will decide the fate of tax incentives for horizontal and deep well drilling. At stake is over $300 million in potential state revenue, according to rally literature.

Also at stake is another $60 million in potential tax revenue related to possible franchise taxes, McDonald said.

Merchant said he supports the idea of offering tax incentives to businesses that bolster the state's coffers. He simply wants to feel it is a balanced approach.

"We understand that is key and crucial. But those same businesses benefit from the services provided by those tax dollars statewide and also locally all the way down to their employees whose children are sitting in public school classrooms," Merchant said. "There remains an incentive to keep those businesses here in the state and going but to also provide the funding to support those quality services that serve the employee of those energy related businesses as well."

According to a press announcement just released Thursday afternoon, State Superintendent Janet Barresi announced her support for a proposed $2,000 per year hike in teacher's wages included in HB 2966 authored by state Rep. Ann Coody.

“Nothing is more important than giving Oklahoma’s future generations the opportunities that come with a great education, and that requires great teachers. Attracting and keeping first-rate teachers is a serious challenge when they can receive better compensation elsewhere,” said Barresi.

“Some of our teachers have children on free- or reduced-price lunches. Too many of Oklahoma’s best and brightest reject the teaching profession altogether — or wind up leaving the classroom — because of meager pay. Before Oklahoma can move forward with teacher differential pay, it is important that we make sure teacher salaries are even competitive.”

Barresi's move to close the pay gap is a move that almost underscores the current condition of the Oklahoma public education system issues that teachers want to put out on the table at the rally, Merchant said.

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