Oklahoma Resistance Teachers

Oklahoma: Teachers Just Purged Their Enemies Out of the Legislature

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Eric Levitz wrote a great article in New York magazine about the electoral victories of educators and parents in Oklahoma. They kicked the bums out! Open the article for lots of great links.

“For nearly a decade, Republican officials have been treating ordinary Oklahomans like the colonial subjects of an extractive empire. On Governor Mary Fallin’s watch, fracking companies have turned the Sooner State into the earthquake capital of the world; (literally) dictated policy to her attorney general; and strong-armed legislators into giving them a $470 million tax break — in a year when Oklahoma faced a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

“To protect Harold Hamm’s god-given right to pay infinitesimal tax rates on his gas profits (while externalizing the environmental costs of fracking onto Oklahoma taxpayers), tea party Republicans raided the state’s rainy-day funds, and strip-mined its public-school system.

“Between 2008 and 2015, Oklahoma’s slashed its per-student education spending by 23.6 percent, more than any other state in the country. Some rural school districts were forced to adopt four-day weeks; others struggled to find competent teachers, as the GOP’s refusal to pay competitive salaries chased talented educators across the border into Texas. Students who were lucky enough to have both five-day weeks and qualified instructors still had to tolerate decaying textbooks. Polls showed overwhelming public support for raising taxes on the wealthy and oil companies to increase investment in education. GOP lawmakers showed no interest in those polls.

“And, for a while there, it really looked like they didn’t have to.

“Mary Fallin rode a wave of fracking dollars to reelection in 2014, while her GOP allies retained large majorities in both chambers of the legislature. With no organized opposition to counter the deep pockets of extractive industry, Republican officials could reasonably conclude that working-class Sooners had no material interests that their party was bound to respect.

“But then, Oklahoma teachers decided to give their state a civics lesson. Inspired by their counterparts in West Virginia, Oklahoma teachers went on strike to demand long-overdue raises for themselves, more education funding for their students, and much higher taxes on the wealthy and energy companies — to ensure that those first two demands would be honored indefinitely.

“They won one out of three. Despite the fact the teachers had no legal right to strike — and that the Oklahoma state legislature requires a three-fourths majority to pass tax increases of any kind — the teachers galvanized enough public support to force Fallin to give an inch. As energy billionaire (and GOP mega-donor) Harold Hamm glowered from the gallery, Oklahoma state lawmakers passed a tiny increase in the tax on fracking production (one small enough to leave Oklahoma with the lowest such tax rate in the nation), so as to fund $6,100 raises for the state’s teachers.

“The strikers were pleased, but unappeased. They promised to make lawmakers pay for refusing to finance broader investments in education with larger tax hikes. “We got here by electing the wrong people to office,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told the New York Times in April. “We have the opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box.” Hamm and his fellow gas giants (almost certainly) made an equal and opposite vow — that those few Republicans who held the line against tax hikes of any kind would not regret their bravery…

“Oklahoma’s GOP primary season came to an end — and the teachers beat the billionaires in a rout. Nineteen Republicans voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay last spring; only four will be on the ballot this November…

“Last spring, state representative Jeff Coody told students in his districts that their teachers’ demands were “akin to extortion.” On Tuesday night, GOP voters returned Coody to the private sector. His colleague, Bobby Cleveland — who scolded teachers for whining at the Capitol instead of teaching in their classrooms — will now be taking a hiatus from politics. In May 2017, State Representative Tess Teague mocked the ignorance of protesters who were demanding tax hikes on fracking companies — in a Snapchat video that made heavy use of animal filters.” she’s back in the private sector too.

Thank you, Oklahoma Teachers!

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