Oklahoma education is not OK

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, April 7, 2018

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When I was a kid in an Oklahoma public school, I don’t remember thinking it was strange to have textbooks that were falling apart or to go to classes in an ancient outbuilding that flooded every time it rained.

Racey Burden

When I moved to Texas in the middle of sixth grade, I experienced a great deal of culture shock – people actually said “y’all” and I was expected to buy a new wardrobe of Aeropostale clothes to match my new friends – so I don’t know if it registered that my new school district was a lot better funded than the one I left behind, even though demographically the towns weren’t all that dissimilar.

Now, after living in Oklahoma for four years in college and following the social media timelines of several friends and acquaintances who teach there, I realize how terrible the state of education is in the state I come from.

Classrooms with more than 30 children, textbooks from the ’80s, chairs that are broken, classrooms full of supplies the teachers have bought themselves – Oklahoma teachers do deserve a raise, and so does education funding in general.

I’ve seen many supportive comments online since the Oklahoma teacher walkout started this week, but I’ve also seen some of my fellow Texans calling teachers “lazy” or “greedy.” It doesn’t sit well with me.

My friends who teach in Oklahoma make around $10,000 less than teachers here- and yes, some of them have moved to Texas for this very reason. Those who’ve stayed have seen funding per student slashed by 28 percent over the last decade. Many school districts switched to four-day school weeks, and nearly 2,000 teachers in the state are emergency certified instead of degree holders.

Just today I saw an article on CNN’s website about a young girl in Oklahoma who was ecstatic to discover one of her textbooks was used by country singer Blake Shelton in the ’80s – her mother, however, was embarrassed the book was still in use.

While lawmakers in Oklahoma have prioritized everything from prisons to oil over education, teachers and students have suffered. They’ve had enough. Some have quit, some have moved, and some are choosing to fight to make their profession, and the lives of the kids, better. Everything takes money, and what better thing to spend money on than the future of your state?

I don’t think the state of public education in Texas is quite as dour, but I look at things legislators have pushed in recent years – more money to charter schools, evaluation systems that make no sense and degrade public schools – and I think Oklahoma teachers are on to something.

I don’t think they’re lazy; I think they’re brave to fight for their kids. I don’t see a walkout in Texas’ future, but I do hope we see what’s happening in Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky and vote with education in mind in the November elections, so we’re not fighting this same fight 10 years down the road.

Racey Burden is a reporter for the Messenger and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma.

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