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COMMENTARY
OEA poll
(Megan Ross)

Voters are fed up.

As lawmakers approach the beginning of the legislative session, they should be troubled by the results of a statewide poll released Jan. 10 by the Oklahoma Education Association.

When it comes to education funding, the Legislature has only a 7 percent approval rating among Oklahoma voters. The governor fared only slightly better at 12 percent.

When asked who was more trustworthy — Gov. Mary Fallin, Republican lawmakers or Democratic lawmakers — 1 in 5 respondents voluntarily responded “none,” even though that was not one of the offered answers. This is an indictment of the state’s failure to fix the education funding crisis and increase teacher pay.

The public education crisis in Oklahoma is real, and Oklahomans know it. Most importantly, Oklahomans want action.

Half the state says education is the No. 1 funding priority — ahead of combined responses of those selecting jobs and the economy, health care, roads and bridges, and taxes. Most voters say education funding must be increased — even if it means raising taxes. In fact, 70 percent of voters said they would support the recently filed ballot measure to increase gross production tax from 2 percent to 7 percent to fund a significant teacher pay raise.

Low pay drives out the best educators

The teacher shortage continues to cripple communities, and students are bearing the brunt of the crisis. What does it say to our students when we allow Oklahoma’s teacher of the year – and thousands like him – to slip away to other states for higher pay? Those finding education jobs in other states are also finding salaries as much as $10,000 more a year.

When you realize public school teachers have not had a state-paid raise since 2007, it’s not surprising to hear the State Department of Education has granted nearly 2,000 emergency teaching certificates for 2017-18. Far too many of our students are being taught by unprepared educators, even if their hearts are in the right place.

The lack of pay indicates we aren’t valuing the very professionals that make the most difference in a child’s education: a great teacher. Oklahoma voters understand this, which is why 85 percent of those surveyed say teacher pay is too low and 72 percent say the teacher shortage is an extremely or very serious problem.

A new way forward

It’s time to put the welfare of students ahead of corporate welfare. We give away hundreds of millions of dollars through corporate tax incentives year after year. Voters see this, and the majority of them believe increased education funding will improve the quality of education our students receive.

It’s interesting to know that of the people who participated in this survey, 53 percent self-identified as Republican or as leaning Republican, while 35 percent identified as Democrat or lean Democrat. Voters from both major parties know the decade of brutal cuts to schools isn’t the way forward.

Lawmakers have a chance during the coming legislative session to get it right and salvage their relationship with constituents before voters have their say at the ballot box this November. I hope they take these numbers to heart and realize that voters are giving them permission to properly fund public education.

(Editor’s note: The full results of the poll are embedded below.)