(Editor’s note: The Yes for 779 campaign has purchased advertising on NonDoc, including two funded content pieces. The first of those pieces appeared last week from Durant High School teacher John Hazell. The second appears below.)
In an election season filled with contentious figures and issues, State Question 779 has emerged as one of the most hotly debated topics.
The proposed constitutional amendment to earmark a penny sales tax strictly for education highlights the dire straits the state has entered.
Below-regional-average teacher pay and, relatedly, teacher shortages contribute to Oklahoma’s abysmal rankings in certain metrics of public education.
Tony Flores was the Putnam City School District’s 2015 Teacher of the Year. He has been a strong supporter of SQ 779’s efforts to fund quality public education, and below he tells the story of how he became a teacher only after one of his own teachers took him in off the streets.
Responses have been lightly edited for grammar and style.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
The fact that I’m a teacher today is really a testament to the power of public education. I grew up in one of Houston’s roughest neighborhoods, the type of place where you operated in constant survival mode. Most of my childhood friends were either killed or sent to jail.
I was homeless for a while after my mother passed away, and it was a former high school teacher that took me in. He and his wife made sure I was fed and even helped me get into college. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be teaching music at Wiley Post Elementary in Oklahoma City today. Public education literally saved my life — and this how I’m paying it forward.
When you talk to your fellow teachers, what are you hearing?
A lot of teachers feel underappreciated. They’re continually asked to do more with less. I know from the teachers I’ve talked to that morale is at an all-time low. Add to that the fact that their class sizes are growing larger every year. Today, many classrooms have upwards of 30 students! These conditions are simply not conducive to learning.
Fortunately, I feel like people outside the classroom understand that we have a devastating teacher shortage and an education funding crisis, either because they know a student whose favorite teacher has left the classroom or their school district has gone to a four-day week. In some way or another, every family across the state has been negatively impacted by these budget cuts. And Oklahomans are fed up. We’re tired of seeing the same old cuts with no end in sight.
State Question 779 is a much-talked about ballot question. How do you feel about it?
Teacher pay is a real issue. The elementary school I attended in Texas recently offered me a job earning significantly more money. But I chose to stay. I actually don’t own a car or have cable television because I’m working hard to pay down my student debt. So I can really see how difficult it can be for a teacher trying to support a family.
Every time we lose a teacher, hundreds of students lose the opportunity to be positively impacted by someone amazing. We have to keep our teachers in Oklahoma for the sake of our students, and I think SQ 779 is the best place to start.
If someone is on the fence on 779, what would you say to them?
I would ask them if they’re okay with being dead last in the nation in what we pay our teachers. Do you think it’s acceptable we’re investing less in our kids than every state bordering us?
Those questions are at the heart of what we will decide this November. Finally, I would say we’ve been waiting for someone to address the education funding crisis and teacher shortage — and now it’s up to us to finally do something about it by voting “Yes” on State Question 779.