A Public Thank You To OK Legislators

Awkward HugI’d like to thank the Oklahoma State Legislature for approving the use of $51 million from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” in order to soften the blow taken by public education this year.

I’ve been very critical of this legislature for their handling of our state budget over the past several years. I’m still opposed to the extent of the tax cuts they’ve approved, and there are some in leadership I’m convinced are willfully and maliciously dismembering public education at the bidding of their fiscal overlords from other realms.

But I’m not talking about them right now. 

Thanks to the rest of you for softening your stance enough to recognize that public education and other essentials of the social contract have been demonized and attacked by those elected to implement and support them, and for doing what you could to provide airbags for our crash landing. 

Thanks to those of you who’ve advocated for public education throughout your time in office, often at the expense of having your other issues taken seriously or your legislation heard because you weren’t “playing ball” with those sitting at the biggest desks. We recognize that in speaking truth to power, you’ve crippled your own ability to implement change – a paradox I couldn’t navigate so gracefully.

A special thanks to those of you who’ve been fighting these extreme tax policies for years, and who years ago publicly predicted the situation we’re now in. We don’t always acknowledge or appreciate you, despite what should be a natural alliance of “Davids” in a system controlled by “Goliaths”. 

Thank you to the members of the Education Committees in both the House and Senate who opposed even bringing voucher bills to the floors of their respective houses. I know you took substantial heat from leadership and I want to publicly acknowledge that you voted your conscience and what you believed your constituents wanted despite the political costs, and despite not immediately having the numbers to prevail. 

Thank you to the many legislators in both houses who worked behind the scenes to prevent these bills from coming to the floor. It’s difficult to express this with any specificity, because unless you’ve communicated your convictions publicly, we don’t know who you are

Even if we did, I’m not sure I’d be doing you any favors by listing your names. I recognize that you’re now targeted by state leadership for doing what was right for the marginalized and underserved across our state, and a Blue Cereal endorsement wouldn’t exactly improve your status in their eyes.

Otherwise I’d send you a mug or something. I know, I know… but that’s politics. 

Thank you to the many Republicans in both houses who refuse to accept that their party must stand only for the elite and the chosen few, and who’ve endured a “calling out” by the Governor’s office as closet Democrats – as if concern for your constituents or the children of this state is a character flaw and the defining element of Republicanism is not a passion for America’s potential or a belief in self-reliance, but mindless obedience to one’s fiscal overlords. Thank you for believing that your party can stand for more than some malevolent caricature, even when it costs you influence and support – and may cost you your office.

Thank you to the Democrats in both houses for providing the kind of minority opposition essential to meaningful democracy and thoughtful decision-making. Your role is critical even when final decisions aren’t as “thoughtful” as our system intends. 

Thank you for those behind-closed-doors efforts to kill hundreds of horrible ideas before they reached the floor. A few got through – and we’re dealing with those – but most of it went away. While I’m not privy to details, thank you to those of you who made that happen.

Thank you Superintendent Joy Hofmeister for calling on me during Q&A even though you know you'll regret it every time. You’ve been pretty tight-lipped about your role in all of this over the past month, but I suspect you’re a big part of whatever damage control was managed this time around. 

I suspect your relative silence is pragmatism allowing you to be more effective rather than maneuvering allowing you to advance your political future. Thank you for choosing the right thing over the ambitious thing, whether we see it clearly just yet or not.

I don’t speak for all of #OklaEd – only the wisest and best-looking among them – but I hereby commit myself to do everything in my humble power to promote the re-election of sitting legislators who chose to shield public education from at least some of the blast this time around. 

I don’t agree with all of you about everything, and given a little face-to-face time and a drink or three, I’d argue that few of us are completely guiltless in this mess. But we choose our representatives from those who run, and we work with those actually able to get elected in Oklahoma - and that means a few compromises and reality checks here and there. 

I resolve to do my best to get every teacher or parent who called or emailed or shared FB posts cursing you for this session’s insanity to follow up by voting their voice in June, and August, and November. I know that all of our talk about you “working for us” only matters if we play our role as well and make sure the good ones stay in office and the bad ones are replaced. 

I’m officially calling on all #11FF and the entirety of #OklaEd to reach out to at least a half-dozen co-workers, neighbors, folks at church, parents of students, etc., and encourage them to get informed and get involved. 

Yes, we’ll keep calling and emailing and carrying on about legislation still on the table, but let’s do so in informed, targeted ways. Let’s put the same effort into thanking and supporting those fighting FOR us as we’re putting into calling out those AGAINST us. 

Finally, I’d like to encourage those of us NOT in office, but still fighting FOR public ed, to resist the temptation to turn on one another over details, or to let legitimate disagreements fragment our collective voice. I’d remind myself as much as anyone else that private schools and their teachers, parents, and students are NOT the enemy, nor are those trying to serve kids through charters, TFA, homeschooling, or whatever. 

Our fight is with corporate exploitation and manipulation of the weak; not with individuals trying to educate kids in a different way than ourselves. I’ve been guilty of forgetting this distinction too many times to take it lightly now. 

As educators, we pride ourselves on looking past clichés and stereotypes, or even the facades willfully projected by our students, in order to find the “real child” and the potential underneath. Thank you for doing the same for us and for our kids. We are resolved to do a better job of doing the same for you, starting now. 

Let us know how we can help.

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