Two teachers unions that have steadfastly opposed reopening schools for full-time, in-person instruction are part of a new coalition opposing efforts to provide parents with a wider range of school options.
Yet teacher-union activists are members of several of the groups in that coalition, including supposed “parent” organizations, according to one official involved in two of the groups, meaning the “coalition” may be made up of many of the same people simply wearing different hats for public-relations purposes.
“You have the teachers union and all these other things,” said Melissa Remington, a parent of three school-age children in the Tulsa Public School district. “There’s so much crossover. Are we counting all of those people double, triple, whatever, if they are in all of these little clubs too?”
In a letter publicly posted this week, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) and the American Federation of Teachers Oklahoma (AFT) were among groups announcing the “Public Funds for Public Schools OK Coalition."
Because several major districts have yet to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction five days a week, parents have expressed growing interest in expanding school-choice programs in Oklahoma, including everything from more robust open transfer between public districts to allowing parents to use tax funds for private-school tuition, especially in situations where a local school refuses to fully reopen.
Polling has shown strong public support for expanded school-choice policies in Oklahoma.
At the same time, the OEA and AFT have been among the most vocal opponents of school reopening, even though health experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly said schools can safely reopen and issued a report showing teachers are no more likely to contract COVID-19 working at school than conducting other routine activity in the community.
The OEA has opposed school reopening even when Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that teachers would be prioritized in distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
In the letter announcing the “Public Funds for Public Schools OK Coalition," the OEA, AFT and other group members said, “There are a variety of bills that have been introduced this legislative session that would divert public funds from public schools,” referencing legislation that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send a child to the school of their choice.
The coalition described those bills as “threats” to public schools and vowed to oppose them.
The coalition’s other members include organizations such as the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee and Oklahoma PTA (parent-teacher association).
Yet Remington said those two groups are both substantially directed by teacher-union members—and she has reason to know firsthand. Remington is the PTA president at Memorial High School in Tulsa and a member of the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee.
Remington said the PTA chapter at Memorial High School does not have “a lot of participation from parents” and is not a demographic outlier.
“PTAs are no longer parent-heavy,” Remington said. “They’re mostly teacher-heavy.”
She said the same thing is true of the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee, whose membership includes teacher members who are union activists. In some instances, Remington said the teachers who are members of groups like PLAC do not have school-age children. Likewise, she noted the president of the Tulsa Council PTA is not a parent.
What are the views of actual parents involved in those groups? Remington said the only thing that is certain is that the leadership of those two groups does not know—because they’ve never surveyed parent members.
“They’re not asking us,” Remington said. “They’re just blindly claiming allegiance that we agree with them, and they’re not asking us. They’re just assuming that none of us want these things.”
Like many parents, Remington said she initially joined the PTA and similar groups “because I want to help,” but in recent weeks the gap between parent wishes and what supposed parent groups are advocating has become impossible to ignore, she said.
For example, Remington found that both the PTA and Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee are opposing Senate Bill 210, which would give parents the ability to force recall elections for school-board members under certain circumstances.
Yet Remington said she supports that legislation, and neither parent group surveyed its members before announcing opposition.
The ongoing closure of public schools weighs on Remington’s family, as it does on many other parents and children throughout Oklahoma. Remington said her high-school-age children have not had in-person instruction for more than 300 days now in the Tulsa Public School system.
“They play sports,” Remington said, “but they don’t get to actually go to school.”
Like many parents, Remington believes children kept out of full-time, in-person classes for the past year “are really going to have a serious issue whenever next year rolls around.” For groups that claim to represent parents to actively work against the wishes of those parents now only adds salt to an open wound.
“I am fed up with the fact that we are getting opted in as parents to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ without even being questioned,” Remington said. “There’s no questionnaire. There is no survey. They just did it. They just decided that we’re all in it with them.”