Oklahoma Republicans Cut School Budgets
Recently the Washington Post described a deepening budget crisis in the Oklahoma public schools. [Cuts push many Okla. schools to four-day week, WP, 5/28/17] Budget cuts have eliminated funds for art, foreign language, textbooks and cut the school week to four days for 96 of 513 school districts with 44 planning a four day week in the fall.
The hardship comes from deliberate cuts in State income taxes as the article mentions: “School districts staring down deep budget holes have turned to shorter weeks in desperation as a way to save a little bit of money and persuade increasingly hard-to-find teachers to take some of the nation’s lowest-paying jobs.” Republicans have controlled the Oklahoma legislature since 2009 with a Republican governor since 2011. Since then they have cut income taxes and also significantly lowered taxes on oil and gas production to “pay for” education cuts.
Oklahoma teachers do not have some of the lowest paid teachers in the United States, they have the lowest paid teachers in the United States as I found out looking at the Occupational Employment Survey data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Oklahoma pre-schoolteachers have a 2016 median wage of $32,240; kindergarten teachers have a median wage of $38,190, elementary teachers $38,830, middle school teachers $40,290 and high school teachers $40,780. There are thirty five states and the District of Columbia that pay high school teachers with a median wage above $50,000 and sixteen states have median wages above $70,000. One Oklahoma elementary school teacher interviewed by the Washington Post earns $39,350 after 18-years in the classroom.
The median wage for elementary school teachers in Oklahoma in 2006 was $34,430. If the median wage increased by the amount of inflation between 2006 and 2016 the wage would be $40,989.96. Instead it was $38,830 as mentioned above, which equals a 5.27 percent decrease in buying power for elementary school teachers. Inflation; silent but deadly.
It gets worse. During the period from 2000 to 2016 the Oklahoma State population increased from 3.4 million to 3.9 million, but the total number of teachers declined. In the year 2000 Oklahoma employed 57,220 teachers. By 2005 it was down to 52,870; by 2010 to 51,450; by 2016 to 48,790.
Private education employment as a percentage of combined private and public school employment for primary, secondary and post secondary education was 18.1 percent of monthly employment in 1990, using Bureau of Labor Statistics establishment data. It has slowly but surely increased to 25.6 percent by 2016, a 7.5 percent increase. Funding cuts for public schools continue as part of a relentless, long term Republican Party campaign to make education a privilege of the rich and the well-to-do. It is the same plan Republicans have for health care.
Every county in Oklahoma voted for Trump. His new Secretary of Education, DeVos, makes a relentless push for school vouchers to allow individuals the choice to pull their property taxes out of the public schools. Vouchers contribute funding to private schools that set tuition as they decide and accept or reject students as they wish. School choice plans and charter schools maintain public funding in the public schools, but vouchers compel the country to concede the Republican Party notion that education has no social or public benefits the wealthy should be expected to support.
Is that what voters and residents want in Oklahoma?