Oklahoma schools go on 4-day weeks so teachers can work at Walmart on Mondays to make rent
In 1992, Oklahoma passed a ballot initiative saying that the state could only raise taxes with a three quarters majority in the state assembly, creating a one-way ratchet where every tax cut becomes effectively permanent, including the sweetheart deals cut for frackers and the deep cuts to taxes on the wealthiest residents of the state.
As a result, the state is going broke. Teachers haven’t gotten a raise in 10 years and the only way they can afford to accept the pay — third-worst in the nation — is by negotiating a four-day school week in 90 districts, freeing teachers up to take jobs at Walmart on Mondays to make ends meet.
Teachers are fleeing the state in droves, including the Teacher of the Year, who quit his job in 2016 shortly after receiving his award, taking a better-paid teaching job in a neighboring state (the Dallas school system actively recruits Oklahoma teachers with Oklahoma City hiring booths).
Teachers are especially hard hit: their health plan was replaced with a private system that eats up more than $1000/month for a family of three — one teaching aide was actually paying to work her job, spending $200/month more on health insurance than she was paid in salary. Teachers make ends meet with public housing vouchers and food stamps, and school food-bank drives sometimes give their leftovers to hungry teachers and their families.
It’s not just teachers: the highway patrol has been given orders not to completely fill their gas-tanks at the pump, to help with state cash-flow; drunk drivers go free because there is no one available to process their tickets, and the prison system is on the verge of collapse.
No fact embarrasses Oklahomans more, or repels prospective businesses more, than the number of cash-strapped districts that have gone to four-day weeks. Yet even such a radical change may not help finances much. Paul Hill, a professor of education at the University of Washington, Bothell, estimates that the savings are “in the 1 or 2% range at most”. That sliver is still important to Kent Holbrook, superintendent of public schools in Inola (the self-styled “Hay Capital of the World”). “In my mind, that’s five or six teachers,” says Mr Holbrook. Already, from 2008 to 2016, he has lost 11 teachers from a corps that once numbered 100. He has also had to reduce Spanish classes and, for the tenth year running, delay buying new textbooks.