Youth rarely prevents students from accomplishing impressive things. Freshman Maureen Haynes proves this. Haynes was elected by her neighbors as an Oklahoma Democratic Party precinct chair for precinct 454 in south Broken Arrow. Even more recently the precinct chairs elected Haynes as a state delegate to the Oklahoma Democratic Party Convention in a caucus on education.
During the May convention Haynes will be connecting with prominent Democrats in the state, working on the party platform, passing resolutions and electing leadership for the next two years.
Haynes was elected for the purpose of championing education at the state convention. Haynes believes the biggest education concern in the state is funding. “We’re seeing TPS putting out surveys asking parents and local citizens what they would do to fill a 12 million dollar budget deficit. Teachers are fleeing the state for states that pay much better,” she explained.
“So really our job this year and next year is all about getting the legislature to pass measures that will allow education in Oklahoma to be better funded — to really just meet the minimum adequate standards,” Haynes said.
Haynes attended high school at Union Public Schools and so has firsthand experience with the Oklahoma education system. “Union Public Schools are very insulated from the general issues of Oklahoma because they have a lot of private donations and they tend to manage the money pretty well, but even they are having cuts,” she shared.
“Last year the science department at Union HS went from a $30,000 to a $15,000 budget,” and it expects to lose all of that funding for the next year. “Quite literally $0,” she said. Haynes emphasized the impact these cuts will have on students who plan to pursue STEM fields in college.
“Education in Oklahoma, particularly public education, affects pretty much every issue in the state,” she said. Haynes mentioned incarceration and recidivism rates, student entrance into higher education, student retention and workforce readiness and student suitability for open jobs already available in the state as issues that stem from poor preparation in public primary and secondary schools. “The reason I joined the education caucus is because all of these issues in Oklahoma could be ameliorated if we were to adequately (and then do even better at) support public education.”
Haynes is excited “to start working with people that are at all different levels in the state whether it be right in my own neighborhood, in Tulsa County or the state of Oklahoma as a whole to try to fix education.”
“It’s really interesting to me as a citizen and as someone who’s only 18 and has only been eligible to vote once at this point to really start to have these conversations,” she enthused.
Haynes is a sociology major. “As someone who is politically active,” she said, “I chose it over political science because it looks at how society is right now and the problems we face pragmatically rather than with political theory.”
“It’s really helpful in a state like this where things are kind of spiralling a little bit to look at people the way they are rather than how things should be,” she continued.
Haynes spoke with particular hopefulness about ways that students can become active in politics. “There is a neighborhood just a little bit west of TU that has their State Representative seat open in the upcoming election and I know that the candidates running for that need help,” she shared. Haynes also suggested joining the political groups on campus like TU Young Democrats or College Republicans, as a tool for networking and getting involved.
In addition, she emphasized the importance of contacting your state legislators. “Figure out who your representative and your senator are and contact them, because you only get a voice at the table if you make yourself be heard. Regardless of your political affiliation, regardless of what you believe in, they are tied to you because you are their constituents.”
A particular incident surrounding her nomination and election to the May convention proved to Haynes the importance of having young people like TU students actively involved in politics. An older man and fellow precinct chair at the local Democratic party meeting whom Haynes had never met before was the person who nominated her for the delegate position. He told her, “I’m doing this because you’re young and you’re a student … I want you to have a voice at the table.”