To the editors:
Did anyone see Sunday’s Oklahoman? There was a great story by Ben Felder on the front page, right alongside a front-page editorial by Kelly Dyer Fry. A FRONT-PAGE EDITORIAL.
Why the all-caps about the front-page editorial? Because, in the newspaper industry, front-page editorials are rare. They function as an S.O.S.-sort of signal to readers, suggesting: “Hey, what we have to say is so important here, we’re putting our opinions on the front page of our paper, above the fold.”
(Full disclosure: I rarely agree with the editorial pages of The Oklahoman, so imagine my surprise this morning when I found myself nodding in agreement with Dyer Fry and exclaiming, “YES!” probably loud enough for my neighbors to hear.)
Excitement turns to anger
The editorial was titled State of Oklahoma, and if you didn’t read it, the gist of the editorial highlighted the dichotomy of how our state is both incredibly generous and helpful in times of disaster while also sitting at the bottom of most rankings when the bottom isn’t good.
Fry explained that, during the next few months, The Oklahoman will feature stories that tell its readers why we fall at the bottom of so many lists and what we can do to fix it.
Essentially, Sunday’s front page was a signal (or so I thought), a recognition of sorts, that business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore. Our state is in dire need of repair, and The Oklahoman intends to hold up a mirror to show us how we all have contributed to this and why we must reverse course.
I was elated as I read that front page, but my excitement quickly shifted to anger when I flipped through the A-section and landed on the traditional editorial page. I came across an editorial that basically flew in the face of everything the front page — including Dyer Fry’s editorial — was trying to accomplish.
This editorial spent 553 words trashing the plan put forth by the Oklahoma Education Association that calls for a $1.4 billion investment in state government over the next three years because, in their words, “Less than half would go to teacher pay.”
Cue the eye roll.
OEA plan about more than teacher pay
Of course OEA’s plan calls for money to be invested in other areas of education and other areas of state government, because, unlike the author of the latter editorial, they’ve been holding up a mirror and they don’t like what they see.
The OEA sees that even though the teacher-salary crisis is huge, it’s not the only problem Oklahoma needs to address. They see that funding to education has been slashed by 26.6 percent since 2008. They know this means that schools are being asked to educate more students with less money and fewer teachers and support staff. They know this isn’t good for students, and it isn’t good for retaining quality teachers, even if they all receive adequate raises.
They also acknowledge that the rest of state government hasn’t been spared cuts to the bone, either. They see that funding for colleges and universities has been slashed so deeply that entire courses have been cut, which forces students to take longer to get degrees (if they can even afford to finish at all).
Two years ago, the OEA watched our lawmakers, in a fit of immature revenge politics, cut higher education by 16 percent in a single year.
They see programs zeroed out that were put in place to protect our kids from child abuse and neglect. They see that access to mental health services simply doesn’t exist in most areas of Oklahoma because of budget constraints. They recognize the crippling impact that this has on us all.
They’ve witnessed programs that keep seniors fed and out of nursing homes be placed on the chopping block.
They see teenagers wanting to get a license to drive wait months because exam centers have been consolidated and examiner positions have been eliminated.
They see that our transportation infrastructure is crumbling and our roads are a little less safe because highway patrolmen and women can only drive 100 miles per day due to budget cuts.
They see our prisons are overcrowded and understaffed and that we’re one prison riot away from a major public safety crisis.
They see that, while corporations have benefited from generous tax giveaways, Oklahoma families are constantly asked to make sacrifices that impede a path to a more prosperous future.
Do some self-reflecting
Because they want to alter the course of Oklahoma’s bleak future, the OEA has devised a sensible plan and are demanding that lawmakers act.
GASP! The nerve, right?
How dare an organization dedicated to teachers, support professionals and the mission of public education ask our elected officials to step up?
How dare the OEA care about more than teacher pay? And how dare they not have a scarcity mindset when it comes to calling for the investments everyone knows it will take to put Oklahoma on a better path?
Dyer Fry was right to ask Oklahomans to hold up a mirror and do some self-reflecting when it comes to ensuring our state’s future is bright. Might I suggest the members of The Oklahoman’s editorial board start with themselves?
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