Saturday, February 01, 2020

OCPA column: Bernie Sanders reveals teacher union goals for Oklahoma

Bernie Sanders reveals teacher union goals for Oklahoma
By Jonathan Small

In a recent column published by The Oklahoman, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, declared himself connected at the hip with Oklahoma teacher unions. There’s good reason to take that claim seriously—the Oklahoma Education Association’s national parent, the National Education Association, has given Sanders an “A” rating for years—so one should take seriously Sanders’ agenda as one shared by his teacher union comrades.

It’s an agenda that means more money for the government and less money for working Oklahoma families—even though Sanders tries to pretend otherwise. And it’s an agenda that would limit educational opportunity for Oklahoma children.

Over two years, Oklahoma lawmakers have increased K-12 school appropriations by 20 percent, funneling $638 million more into the system for teacher pay raises and classroom funding. Much of that funding came from more than $1 billion in tax increases and other revenue measures passed since 2015.

Sanders says those tax increases have “not been nearly enough” and calls for even more taxes. But Sanders decries Oklahoma’s recent tax increases—explicitly demanded by Oklahoma teacher unions—as falling “heavily on working families.” And he argues Oklahoma school problems were caused by state “tax cuts favoring the wealthy and large profitable corporations.” Since 2005, Oklahoma’s income tax was cut from 6.65 percent to 5 percent. That tax cut kicks in at $8,700 of taxable income for single filers. Who knew that earning $8,700 made one “wealthy”?

So Sanders is in the odd position of praising unions for forcing Oklahoma tax increases on working families, even as he decries those tax increases, and then argues that tax cuts that benefitted those working families were a mistake. Make of that what you will.

And Sanders says he now wants additional tax increases—on the “wealthy,” of course.

Sanders also took aim at EPIC charter schools, an online provider, saying that school is “draining” $112 million from public schools, and declared as president he would put “a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.”

Never mind that every dollar spent on a student at EPIC—which is a public school—would have been spent on those same students in other public brick-and-mortar schools, so there’s no diversion of funding from education at all. And never mind that charter schools disproportionately serve low-income and minority students who would otherwise not get a quality education. Sanders and his teacher union allies are willing to sacrifice those children simply out of ideological pique.

In 2019, Gov. Kevin Stitt and legislative leaders chose a different path than the 2018 teacher-walkout model that Sanders praises. Instead of raising taxes, they increased state savings—something the OEA opposed, even though those savings will protect schools from budget cuts in future downturns.

Let’s hope saner heads continue to prevail in 2020, because if Sanders and his teacher-union allies prevail, the tax-increase drubbing Oklahomans took in 2018 will become the rule, not the exception.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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