We Cannot Throw Away Our Shot! – What Oklahoma Teachers Need To Learn From Hamilton

I am not throwing away my shot,

I am not throwing away my shot,

Hey yo, I’m just like my country,

I’m young, scrappy, and hungry,

And I’m not throwing away my shot.

Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical adaptation of Chernow’s Hamilton has captivated minds and hearts for several years now. For the past two years, it has been the most played album via my iPod or laptop. There are so many great themes that run through these words and music; making the most of your chances, building support for a cause, the fight for freedom and equality, striving to make a difference, tragedy, overcoming failures, et al. Some of these themes apply directly to the situation my fellow Oklahoma teachers and I are currently facing. We must overcome failure and take the chance in front of us. We must build support for the cause. We must strive to make a difference in the fight for freedom and equality. I believe the time has now come to apply the wisdom of these songs, and the historicity behind them, to the current political and public education quagmire existing in Oklahoma.

It’s Time to Take A Shot

The time is now or never for Oklahoma teachers. We have observed our friends and colleagues leave the state or the profession. We have taken extra jobs to make ends meet. We have dealt with the ever-shrinking budgets and increasingly overcrowded rooms. We have done all of this with a smile on our face and resolve in our heart. We have bought t-shirts. We have shown up to vote. We have discussed the issues ad nauseam on social media. We have contacted state legislators. We have answered media questions. We have given our opinion on surveys. We have threatened to take action. We have thrown about dates. We have recently watched our counterparts in West Virginia successfully organize for legislative action. We see our brothers and sisters in arms in Arizona preparing to do the same. We have come together to offer ideas and plans for a way forward for the state. Through all of this, the response has been consistent. Our legislators have told us to trust them and wait for that better plan. They have broken this promise for a decade. We are no closer to a solution to the revenue issues. It is now time to employ our nuclear option.

Most current teachers in Oklahoma remember HB 1017 and the teacher action at the capitol in 1990. We either were early career educators or still in school ourselves. I was in 6th grade when it happened. Work stoppages to force action are only effective when used wisely and infrequently. We could debate the wisdom of this action from now until the moment I reach retirement age and never come to an agreement. The moment is upon us though, and if we want it to be effective, it has to be now. Facebook groups have formed, press releases have spread, and news stories have ran. Whether we agree with it or not the moment is here. If we back down now without getting the legislative action we desire we lose the advantage of a potential work action. If we fail to act in this present moment, we damn the next 30 years of public education in our state to the ever-worsening reality we face year after year. We will not get this opportunity again. It is now or never. This is our generation’s shot! It’s time to take the shot!

The Plan is to Fan This Spark Into A Flame

The time is now. There is public support on our side. That support comes from within our state and across the nation. The spark is growing into a wildfire before our eyes. We have to use this burgeoning flame to our advantage. We must control it before it became a raging blaze impossible to control. So how do we do this? First, we need to grow the base. This is the best way to build wide and strong support. Throughout the life of Alexander Hamilton, as told through the musical and the historical record, his primary weapon of choice is his pen. From writing letters for more provisions during the Revolutionary War, to serving as the primary Publius penning the Federalist Papers, to the design of the federal treasury plan, Hamilton wrote to spread his message and win supporters.  We must follow his lead. Not all of our efforts will be with pen and paper; in fact, very few will. They will involve communicating our positions. We must share on social media. We must call and email our legislators. We must write letters to the editor. We must talk to our friends and family. If we want to control the burning embers of change, we must let our message set the course lest those very same cinders consume us.

This is Not A Moment It’s The Movement

The time is now for us to spread our message. What is the message though? I believe our message needs to be a unified plan for Oklahoma to move forward. We need to present ideas that will get the state out of the current budgetary mess and move us up the ranks of desired places to live. Not all plans are perfect or liked by everyone. The sales tax raise, which lost at the ballot, had flaws. The Step Up Oklahoma Plan has good and bad parts. The plan proposed by Democratic house members and the state Auditor is also not perfect. The plan I am about to propose is also not perfect; many will say it is a massive overreach. The issue is we need to pick something and get behind it. If we are going to take a job action then we need to have an end goal in mind that will signal when we come back to work. Without that, we are just wasting everyone’s time.

Here is the framework of my plan. If we are going to shut down schools, this has to be worth it. We have to secure long-term gains because we cannot do this again in a few years. So yes, this will be a big ask. We need to draw a line in the sand that we have to have an immediate $10,000 raise to every step in the pay schedule with an additional graduated $5,000 raise to be implemented over the following 3 fiscal years. In addition to this, we need to require a minimum per pupil funding of the greater of 5% higher than the national average or $12,500. The final piece of our line in the sands demands needs to be $5,000 across the board raises for support staff and state employees as well as a restoration of funding to ODOT, DHS, DOC, and our rural hospitals.  We will widen our support if we make this about the other agencies affected by the lack of fiduciary leadership in our state. We need to stand up for them too!

An equally aggressive plan is required for generate the revenue need to fund this bold proposal. To start with, we need to force a repeal of two measure harming democracy in our state. We must eliminate the restrictions in place due to SQ 640. We live with a tyranny of the majority because of this short sighted and flawed piece of legislation. Twenty-seven percent should never outweigh the vote of the other seventy-three. Yet that has happened too many times recently in our state. As a free state in a free nation, the will of the majority should win. This also applies to the rules governing elections to increase ad valorem taxes and bond elections. A simple majority and not the sixty plus one super majority rule should decide these issues.

A plan calling for a drastic raise in state expenditures should also provide a plan for an equal raise in state revenues. Here are some things that could work for Oklahoma:

  • A $1.50 per pack tax on cigarettes
  • Reclassify little cigars as cigarettes for taxation purposes
  • 10% increase in taxes levied on chewing tobacco
  • $0.03 raise in the tax on gasoline
  • $0.06 raise on diesel fuel
  • Allow casinos to expand to use dice and balls in games
  • Legalize sports betting
  • Tax the wind industry at the rate of $1.00/MwH
  • Legalize hemp and cannabis farming to provide product for states where recreational use of marijuana is legal.
  • Raise the Gross Production Tax on oil and gas wells to 12%

This final measure needs to correlate to a push to diversify the economy of Oklahoma. We rely too heavily on the vicissitudes of the oil and gas industry. Take the GPT raise and promise to reduce it one-half percent every year the Oil and Gas industry percentage of the GDP of Oklahoma drops by two and a half percent. Cap this potential reduction at five percent so the f GPT never drops under seven percent. Finally, we need to tie the rankings of teacher pay to that of the legislature and the executive branch of the government. The ranking of teacher pay needs to match the ranking of governor and legislature pay.

There is my plan. Is it perfect? Probably not. Nevertheless, it is an aggressive plan that matches the proposed aggressive action. Will it be easy to achieve? No. However, it would ease the burdens of the rest of our working careers and those immediately following us. It would lead Oklahoma into the future as a leader.