What Oklahoma’s Teachers Union Agitation Really Looks Like On The Ground

What Oklahoma’s Teachers Union Agitation Really Looks Like On The Ground

A large chunk of teachers appears to have no interest in educating themselves about spending, but seem instead content to parrot false union talking points.
Jenni White
By

As Oklahoma’s teacher “walkout” to ostensibly fund teacher raises and classroom needs endures its second week, the atmosphere at the state capitol has become almost festival-like. Amid tents strewn across the grounds hawking wares and handing out information, local restaurants and breweries, capitalize on the influx of teachers, signs in hand, protesting their level of pay.

At this point, no one, including themselves, seem to know what they actually want any more besides “more money.” Yet they carry on.

Organized Activists Are Having a Field Day

The Oklahoma Education Association union, which is quite obviously orchestrating the whole event, has used its Twitter account to document their many non-education-union supporters and paid activists, including the Teamsters, OEA’s national parent the National Education Association union, and the George Soros-backed group The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.

American Federation of Teachers union President Randi Weingarten came to support the walkers, and even Pastors For Oklahoma Kids and other religious leaders came out to bless the efforts.

Toward the middle of the first week of the walkout, legislators and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety began to report the presence of “outside agitators” and the state bureau of investigation was called in to investigate several threats against lawmakers, some of which forced legislative assistants home for part of a day. No one should be shocked. National labor unions do nothing if not support labor workers—in whatever form is necessary.

As it began to look as though many schools would be closed again on April 9, a friend texted me a picture of this poster explaining that her daughter’s high school government teacher (“a liberal bully at its finest”) had sent it to every class she teaches via an app called “Remind 101.” That’s right, she’s using her publicly paid profession to push personally supported political activism.

The hashtag #OklaEd is used by public education advocates in our state (including our state superintendent, who now seems to be doing a better job at encouraging public education advocates to beg for more money than managing what’s given her), the other, #StuVoice, tracked to an organization called Student Voice.

Founded in 2012, this DC-centered nonprofit “dedicated to strengthening the student movement by empowering high school students to take action on the issues that most impact their education” lists no donors on its website.

The LinkedIn page of the self-identified founder states that he “managed over $1 million in sponsorship and support for the student voice movement from Dell, Intel, Microsoft, the Hewlett Foundation, the Asia Society, notable philanthropists, and more,” but their filed tax form 990s (2014, 2015, 2016, no filing for 2017) indicate zero contributions from any of these sources and a working capital in the low six figures.

Simply searching “Student Voice” found individual chapters in several states on college and high school campuses and within school districts dedicated to the same stated mission. Their social media accounts appear to stay busy describing numerous student activist activities, and at least one chapter, led by Student Voice’s director of communications, has identified with Parkland Florida protestors.

We’ll Use Your Money to Force You to Give Us More

While all the usual local suspects have been deeply involved in this walkout—the Oklahoma administrators “association” CCOSA, the Association of School Boards, and school district personnel—a specific group of Oklahoma education activists have orchestrated much of the social media action. Begun in 2014 as the fight against Common Core was heating up in the state, this group quickly spun off a PAC dedicated solely to replacing “public education hating” legislators with public educators.

During both the 2014 and 2016 election cycles this group organized heavily, supporting a roster of mainly Democrats for office. Their tactics involved spreading misinformation and outright lies about more conservative candidates, while affiliated administrators and teachers used their blogs to flog dissenters. One group organizer was even tied to a dark money scandal to get Oklahoma’s current superintendent elected.

Public school administrators all over the state compound these efforts using their district email systems and websites to stump for candidates and encourage parents to raise their incomes and job security. At the capitol, school administrators’ associations—sustained by dues paid by public administrators, schools, and districts, who are in turn paid by taxpayers—continually lobby legislators for more education spending.

Needless to say, when a public education cabal uses a communication system funded by taxpayers to lobby against those same taxpayers while helping create PACs dedicated to electing tax-and-spend educators, any action in opposition becomes like screaming into the wind.

Funding Crisis or Simple Timing?

In sister red states such as West Virginia, Arizona, and Kentucky, teachers are also rallying for funding, and as the wave continues, so do the calls for teachers to run for office.

Although Oklahoma teachers have descended upon the capitol nearly every year to protest what they see as meager public education appropriations, it’s no surprise that rallies during state election years are much larger. Oklahoma’s senators are elected on a four-year cycle, and state representatives two. Candidates for public office must file between April 11-13.

This public spending tsunami is missing one very large component: accountability and transparency for funds already in the system.

What could possibly be better than creating a crisis to gin up support for favored candidates during a legislative period that coincides with candidate filing? In fact, how intimidating could it be to more conservative candidates to have to enter a building stuffed to the gills with angry teachers to file for office?

Like wildfire, social media has burned with offers to help teachers run for office and encouragement for those who have said they would, but this public spending tsunami is missing one very large component: accountability and transparency for funds already in the system, and those being added as Oklahoma legislators continue to daily pass funding measure after funding measure to appease angry teachers in the hope they’ll return home.

It’s now a well-known fact that public schools are, by and large, not producing results. Oklahoma is no different. Even our current administration admits the huge gap between state testing results that insist lots of Oklahoma kids are doing great and more-reliable national scores (page 48) that show Oklahoma educates just about one-third of its student population well enough to be proficient in either math or English. In addition, it’s no secret that school funding does not correlate with results, yet public school activists continue to claim “crisis-level” funding deficits.

Even beyond that, particularly in Oklahoma, the agency that receives the lion’s share of the entire state budget (the state education department) has not been given a performance or forensic audit in more than a decade. How could anyone make a cogent argument about public school funding when there has been no attempt to determine how current (and past) education dollars have been spent and allocated?

Public schools in this state are supposed to be controlled locally, yet state and federal mandates eat up large portions of funding. Why are no teachers protesting mandates? Why aren’t signs flooding the capitol ordering an audit of the state department of education?

In the end, it’s painfully obvious that a large chunk of teachers appears to have no interest in educating themselves about public education spending, but seem instead content to parrot the talking points of the state’s largest teacher’s union (whose membership has slipped drastically in previous years). If taxpayers don’t want to see more of their hard-earned tax dollars slip into the black hole that is public education, they certainly better.

Jenni White is education director for Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment (www.ROPE2.org).​ Their Twitter handle is @RopeOK.

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