Frustrated, Dozens of Teachers to Run For State Office
Schools are undeniably suffering in Oklahoma, and a lot of the blame is being pointed at the state legislature. Many teachers say lawmakers need to quit meddling with something they know nothing about. However, other educators are taking a more proactive approach. They’re running for office. And they’re filing today.
“Its becoming apparent to more and more educators that to be heard we need to be in the conversation, not outside of the conversation trying to talk at people,” said Kevin McDonald, an English teacher at Edmond Memorial High School.
McDonald will be running for Senator Clark Jolley’s seat—District 41—in the November general election. He said he’s sad to leave the classroom, but he feels that it’s absolutely necessary.
“Teaching is what I want to do,” he said, “But I’ve come to a point where my ability to teach is being compromised by legislative decisions.”
He says schools are kind of in crisis mode right now, and thinks that’s partly due to state leaders not making education a priority, and not listening to teacher’s concerns.
Other educators agree, and they’re lining up to get a seat at the table. An unofficial head count shows about 30 teachers running for office, including the state’s Teacher Of The Year.
For McDonald, one of the biggest problems is the load of mandates that have been placed on educators. He says many of the new laws sound good in a sterile environment, but in reality, they don’t play out so well.
“These pieces of legislation in practicality will have perhaps disastrous effects depending upon the needs of the school district,” he said.
He thinks education laws need to be vetted by educators, and he can help with that.
FOCUSED ON EDUCATION
Other teachers want to fix teacher pay and create a more consistent funding stream for schools.
Don Wentroth, the principal at Bethany High School, says ultimately, he just wants to create a better learning environment for students.
“I’m having to make decisions, not on what is best for kids, but on what hurts kids the least, and I can’t deal with that,” he said.
When asked about other issues, like prisons, transportation, and health care, and how he’d deal with those, Wentroth says, “I think I’m smart enough, and I think I’m wise enough to actually ask people involved with the different areas what their thoughts are. How things could be better. And listen.”
But he admits his main focus would be education.
“This isn’t just a situation that has been caused by the oil bust. Public education in Oklahoma has never been taken seriously, or funded like it should be.”
And that’s why he’s running.
But Senator Brian Bingman says teachers might be in for a surprise if they do get elected. He thinks the legislature has done a lot to support education over the years. Throughout this current budget shortfall, he says education has taken fewer cuts than any other agency.
“If you come on the inside of the Capitol, and listen to our discussions, you might see something different,” Bingman said.
He also points to the teacher retirement system as proof that they’ve cared about education over the years.
“We’ve put a lot of money in to the teacher retirement system to shore that up. I think we had one of the worst funded retirement systems in the country.”
However, Bingman says he welcomes anyone that wants to improve the government and the state. And says, ultimately, the decision rests with the voters.