Education

Okla. Public Schools Are Highway To Prison: State Ranks 1st in Nation for Expulsions

Editorial | Nehemiah D. Frank, founder & editor in chief 

Oklahoma ranks 1st for the rate of expulsions – 104 for every 10,000 students. How is this even possible when the state has the 28 lowest populous in the country? For African-American students the number is drastically higher, they account for 25-percent of out-of-school suspensions while only making up 10-percent of the states student population. In 2014-2015 19-percent of African Americans were suspended during the 2014-2015 school year.

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Access to quality education continues to be the impetus for low- and middle-income Oklahomans to keep the heat on their elected officials. They continue verbally calling out their state legislatures – wistfully hoping that they’ll someday have a heart and allocate sufficient funds to education. Sadly, the Oklahoma legislature can’t seem to see nor hear the cries of its constituents. Everyday citizen, with unmatchable and non-competitive funds, vying against corporate giants has been the long-lasting narrative; however, they remain invisible and voiceless. Their legislatures continue to stroll the halls of the capital, where policies that affect the life-chances of individuals for generations to come to our considered second-in-line of the corporations. Hence, it appears that lower- and middle-income Oklahomans are second class citizens – the second phase of a neo-Jim Crow era except for this time poor whites and indigenous people are in the mix.

Moreover and dishearteningly, Oklahoma legislators promote and sustain inequality in education. Some suspect, elected officials purposefully make decisions that discriminate against middle- and lower-income constituents because they want to maintain the status quo; whereby, the white elected elite seemingly ignore the one thing that can lift the masses of the next generation from facing the everyday struggle of poverty. By ignoring the allocation of adequate funding towards education in Oklahoma, legislators are branding felons by giving our children a one-way ticket on the highway to prison.

Persistently, broken promises transpired to a great migration of knowledge-passers from a state that once had teachers flocking in droves with excitement to teach at the dawn of the last century. Now, teachers are flying to Texas, among other states, translates to a failing public school system that continues to impede any real progress for our state’s middle- and lower-income constituents. What’s worst, their inability to fund education further exemplifies their unwillingness to balance the scale which means zero advancement and further deterioration of the African American cohort in the state of Okla.

Oklahoma Policy Markers are branding middle- and low-income African-Americans students as second class citizens so they can maintain the long-lasting status quo of white superiority in the state. A track record that dates back to the first law passed in the Oklahoma chamber halls – the law of segregation. 

So at what point do teachers, students, parents, and advocates standup and walk out of the classrooms straight into the offices of Oklahoma state legislators and stage a sit-in, rekindling a flame of civil disobedience and shouting boldly and unapologetically “GIVE ME EDUCATION OR GIVE ME PRISON?” When will we be prepared and self-ignite the courage for their petty cognitive dissonance arguments about how they have children in the public school system too, but will purposefully fail to tell you how structurally they can send their kids to the best suburban schools and private institutions? When will we summon and possess the intuition and tenacity of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and counter-argue “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The school-to-prison pipeline isn’t a myth that a racial-heterogeneous population of northern liberals made up just to agitate southern white conservative Republicans. No! It’s because quality education is something that all citizens are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution.

School Districts and States Unconstitutional Practices

“In Serrano v. Priest “Students of Los Angeles County public schools and their families argued that the California school finance system, which relied heavily on local property tax, disadvantaged the students in districts with lower income. The California Supreme Court found the system in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because there was too great a disparity in the funding provided for various districts.”

“In the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York argued that New York’s school finance system was unconstitutional because it failed to provide adequate funding to public schools, thus denying students access to the constitutionally-guaranteed right to a basic education. The Court of Appeals ordered the state to reform the system to ensure students would have the opportunity to receive an adequate education.”

“In the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York argued that New York’s school finance system was unconstitutional because it failed to provide adequate funding to public schools, thus denying students access to the constitutionally-guaranteed right to a basic education. The Court of Appeals ordered the state to reform the system to ensure students would have the opportunity to receive an adequate education.”

In May of 2016, the Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights conducted a study on the school-to-prison pipeline theory. Their hypotheses conclude that inequality in education directly correlates with mass incarceration.

Oklahoma Commission Findings On:  

Poverty

  • “In Oklahoma, there are disproportionately more students of color who are in poverty compared with white children. Therefore, Oklahoma students of color are disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of poverty.”

  • “Due to current funding structures, schools with the highest need students often have the fewest resources with which to support them.”

Implicit Bias

  • “Black children are often perceived as older and more dangerous than their white peers. Subsequently, black students may not be afforded the same understanding from teaches, administrators, or juvenile justice workers that their white peers are. Panelists testified that this could lead to these students being overrepresented in juvenile justice systems despite presenting similar behaviors as white students.” 

  • “While white students are more frequently disciplined for engaging in objections behaviors such as smoking or graffiti, black students are more often punished for objective behaviors such as class disruption or dress code violations.” 

  • “While implicit bias is by definition unconscious, panelists suggested that school officials and teachers should receive implicit bias training to mitigate the disparate effects of these biases on various student populations.” 

Exclusionary Disciplinary Policies (School-to-Prison pipeline theorem explained)

  • “Harsh disciplinary practices such as expulsions and suspensions may lead to high rates of juvenile involvement in the criminal justice system, particularly for youth of color and youth with disabilities. Experts testified that students who are excluded from their learning environment disengage from schools.” 

  • “These practices that disproportionately excluded youth of color and youth with disabilities could result in students struggling to find opportunity for achievement or career path. Students instead may engage with harmful or unproductive activities, funneling them into the school-to-prison pipeline.” 

Whether legislatures’ children – notably, are a majority white and privileged class – aren’t in the pipeline, an unfathomable amount of African-American children are on the school-to-prison pipeline. And the continuity of the heartless actions of the majority of Oklahoma public officials demonstrates they don’t care about putting a stent into the detrimental pipeline.

Actions have always spoken louder than words and not funding public education, while their kids ascend and obtain whatever dreams come or can be paid for their convenience, further personifies that they don’t care about poor people nor do they care about African-Americans lives.

Every session, elected officials spew paradoxical arguments about eradicating mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex in Oklahoma. In retrospect, they know the data has been examined and is presented to them annually clearly explaining that inequality in education directly correlates with high incarceration for the underserved population and high levels of poverty. Therefore one can only conclude that by passing policies that don’t aim to enlighten and lift the intellectual capabilities of Oklahomans only implies that implicit biases exist and may run ramped in the Oklahoma state legislative chambers.

The states tax-paying citizens have demanded access to premium education with quality teachers and they have paid for the top-notch institutions. But, state legislatures continue to commit atrocities year after year by not allocating sufficient funds to education. It’s further generations that loose all while simultaneously allowing big Oil and Gas companies to cipher monies, by enabling them to pay the lowest taxes in the nation, stalling the growth of intellectual capability that can secure Oklahoman’s are preparing for the inevitable – a globally-conscious-green-energy future.

A few years ago, President Barack Obama stated that “education equality is the civil rights issue our time.” And despite your views on the former President, no one person can vouch that the achievement gap has had tremendous progress since the 60s when African-Americans lag behind decade after decade in the academic achievement gap.

Did we not learn from putting the first American into space? Nor did we learn anything from the New York Times Bestseller “Hidden Figures,” a book which elevates the need for social cohesion and explains that it was a social progression, and a brief eradication of racial ignorance in the secret confinements of the NASA Space program, that got Americans into space. It shows the possibilities of America’s potential – that a heterogeneous society that shares in resources could reach the heavens and beat the Russians to the moon.

Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet because our legislatures, who are supposed to be the creme of the crop of the society – which is why we elected them in the first place, can’t even satisfy a budget let alone embody the integrity to allocate sufficient funds to education. Adequate funding would allow good teachers to stay, attract quality teachers from other states, and provide additional resources for the classroom. Our society as a whole is in a crisis and because our state legislatures live to appease the oil and gas companies low- and middle-income African Americans suffer and the oil and gas companies are to blame for that detriment.

According to Time magazine “Oklahoma’s budget shortfall stems from the fact that the state taxes horizontal wells—the sort that became widespread in recent years and fueled the American oil boom—at a much lower rate (as low as 1%) than traditional vertical wells (7%).That tax break, intended to incentivize investment in risky drilling prospects, was put in place in 1994 and designed initially to expire after a well was in production for several years. In 2014, state legislators voted to extend the lower rate at 2% for horizontal wells. North Dakota, in contrast, where the Bakken oil field was the site of some of the most prosperous drilling during the boom years, taxed oil production at 11.5%.”

Collective Civil disobedience of students, teachers, and allies may be the one action that could lead to results and real change.

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