Today, I attended a large gathering of Public Education supporters at the Oklahoma State Capitol organized by OEA.
I chose to park in the far east parking lot because it has a "secret" tunnel that you can walk in that goes underneath Lincoln Blvd. and drops you in the basement of the capitol. I feel like I'm on some covert ops when I enter the capitol this way.
While I met with many educators, administrators and representatives, one particular conversation still rattles me.
As I prepared to enter the tunnel, I held the door for and engaged in a pleasant conversation with a teacher from Eastern Oklahoma. She had driven two hours and brought with her a student teacher who will soon graduate and enter the workforce in education. Possibly in Oklahoma.
The teacher confided that she had told her young prospective teacher, "You're coming along to see this because you need to experience what it means to be a teacher in Oklahoma. We have to fight for our kids."
I was simultaneously filled with pride that we have such amazing teachers that will fight the good fight and disgust that we force teachers to take time away from their classrooms to travel across the state to petition our government to do what they are mandated to do by our State Constitution since 1907:
Article 13.1: The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.
I am appalled that we must arrive in full force to encourage our legislators to do the right thing: fully fund our schools so that all children in Oklahoma may be educated.
But here we are.
And today our teachers arrived. By the bus load and car load. I saw educators from Deer Creek, vans from Oologah-Talala, a suburban from Hinton, and folks dressed in "I Support Public Ed" red from all corners of our great state.
Today's bill was less than ideal. There were legislators today that had serious conflicts of conscience with the bill. We cannot fault them for that, as many of them have been ardent supporters of education in many votes in their past.
Yet I still thought there might be a chance for a win for teachers. With this much momentum and media attention, one begins to wonder - can we pass anything to 3/4 in the House of Representatives in this state?
I can only imagine the shock and devastation those teachers are feeling right now. I saw their hope filled eyes as they listened to the moving speeches in the rotunda about the importance of our educators and public schools.
I imagine they feel devastated. And discouraged. And certainly disrespected. I imagine some are ready to give up.
But I walk away hopeful.
I saw something else today other than failure. I saw the handwriting on the wall. This is not a sustainable way to lead a state. The teachers I saw today had fire in their eyes. They are tired of the dysfunction in our government. We all are.
Now we must make 2300 N. Lincoln feel it.
Without massive amounts of capital to influence elections we have but one tool left: democracy.
We must drop our party affiliations and vote FOR our nearly 700,000 kids in public schools across Oklahoma. They cannot vote and are depending on us to do the right thing.
As I reminded several representatives today, Proverbs 22:16 reads - "Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty."
We are experiencing the poverty right now of what cut after cut to public education produces. The disconnect from the statehouse to the schoolhouse was palpable today. We stand with you teachers.
Change is coming. It must. Because, Oklahoma, we are not doing fine for our kids, educators, or those that need us most.