Meet Ray, a fifth-grade teacher in Oklahoma, who was among the throng of educators who swarmed the state capital Tuesday afternoon demanding sufficient funding for schools…

No teacher should ever have to face a classroom where any child hasn’t been provided the necessary textbooks. No teacher should have to shop at Target or Wal-Mart, spending her own out-of-pocket money for supplies she needs (or ask parents to provide them) because the district won’t. No teacher with an advanced degree should have to work a second job just to make ends meet for his family.

Shame on the legislators in Ray’s state — as well as West Virginia, Arizona, and numerous others — who claim they don’t have the money to pay teachers what they’re worth and provide enough books for all of their students. The budget shortfall is not the fault of Ray and his fellow teachers. The blame lies squarely at the feet of conservative politicians who continue to ride the tax cut train by cutting funds for education and other public services so they can curry favor with their rich campaign supporters.

Shame on Congress, which can always find more dollars to give the Pentagon, even for equipment it doesn’t want, yet the people on the front lines of learning get no such support. Then Senators and Representatives turn around and decry the state of education in America.

Shame on the voters, who fall for this nonsense every time, and consistently neglect funding for education as an important enough issue to base their votes on. As for me, I always vote for a tax increase when it’s earmarked for education, because I was brought up in a household where I saw the impact of that funding first hand.

As the son of two educators, I know how hard teachers work. I recoil when I hear someone complain that teachers only work a few hours a day and get summers off — especially when those complaints come from highly paid TV pundits who put in fewer hours and are clearly less prepared than the average American teacher. The same for politicians who have shamefully blamed teachers for their states’ economic woes. None of them would last a year in a classroom. I doubt they’d make it through a month.

The loudmouths don’t understand the job, the training it requires, or the time teachers devote to their jobs. They don’t know that, after an 8-hour day, most teachers spend many more hours grading papers, preparing the next day’s lessons, answering e-mails from students, having conferences with parents, advising after-school clubs, attending curriculum meetings, and on and on through the afternoon and into the night.

Their job (and the all-important funding for it) depends on how students score on standardized tests, and have to show improvement from year to year, like a car salesman has to sell more cars each quarter. The difference is that kids are not cars, all built to a minimum safety standard and road-ready from the moment they reach the showroom. Imagine if that salesman had a twenty-cars-per-month quota, but wasn’t told what kind of cars to sell, what their features were, what they had under the hood, what their mileage was, and all the basic information they usually have.

That’s how a teacher starts every school year — with a classroom full of students of varying ability and desire to learn. It can take even the best teacher several weeks to determine what motivates each pupil and discover which ones will succeed or fail, regardless of how much effort they put in. Then, if you pay too much attention to the bottom of the class, the middle and top suffer, but if you ignore those under-achievers, they’ll drag down your overall test scores.

The argument over paying teachers too often devolves into a question of how we’re going to come up with the money. Taxpayers don’t want their rates to go up, and critics claim that throwing more dollars at the problem doesn’t solve anything. But look at the communities where the best public schools are, and you’ll always see a higher tax base. People want to live in those neighborhoods because of the quality of the schools, which makes the properties there more valuable, which in turn creates higher assessments, which brings in more money for those schools. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and easy to see why poorer areas can’t get out of the dreaded cycle of financial limitations.

Those schools that out-perform the rest have another important factor in common — one more that teachers have no control over — parents who have made education the top priority in their homes. For a child to succeed in school, there must be a constant emphasis on making school Job One. It doesn’t have to be at Tiger Mom intensity, but without regular parental reinforcement about the importance of a good education, getting homework done, being prepared physically and mentally, and a positive attitude towards learning from the earliest years straight through high school, it’s unfair to blame a kid’s failure on teachers.

As the final weeks of this school year approach, classic rock radio stations will start to play Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” in higher rotation, as they have since it was first a hit nearly 40 years ago.  In my early days as a disc jockey, I used to get tons of requests for it — an anthem for kids happy to be free of the bonds of their brick-and-mortar drudgery and “teachers’ dirty looks.”  In my early days as the son of two teachers, I can tell you that the feeling was mutual.

What’s changed between then and now? These days, to cover their life expenses, both the students and the teachers have to look for summer jobs.