teacher shortage

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma schools are becoming more and more reliant on teachers with no training.

A lack of school funding, low pay, and waning morale have driven many of the experienced teachers out of the classroom, or out of the state.

Superintendent of Mid-Del Schools, Rick Cobb, said he used to have 10 to 15 applicants for every open teaching position. Now he’s lucky if he has two.

“You want to know you’re picking the best person that you can, and that’s hard to do now with the super shallow pool of applicants,” he said.

Flickr / wfryer

The State Board of Education approved 631 emergency teaching certifications at Thursday’s board meeting, which is nearly double what the board had approved at this time last year. It brings the total number of emergency certifications to 850 for the 2017-18 school year.

Compare that to last July, when the board had issued a total of 381 emergency teaching certifications, a record number at the time.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister says August is typically when most of the requests for emergency certifications come in, so the number is expected to grow.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

Oklahoma’s state government is facing a budget deficit of around $900 million. One of the casualties of the state's fiscal woes: public schools. They're left facing tough choices like implementing a shorter school week, canceling classes, and consolidating districts. All this as the system is facing a shrinking teacher population and rising class sizes.

The good news: There's an uptick in the hiring of new teachers since the pink-slip frenzy in the wake of the Great Recession.

The bad news: The new hiring hasn't made up for the teacher shortfall. Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all.

Parts of most every state in America face troubling teacher shortages: the most frequent shortage areas are math, science, bilingual education and special education.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

The superintendents of Oklahoma’s two largest school districts told lawmakers Tuesday they are concerned about future budget cuts to education. And, they challenged legislators to prevent further damage.

Rob Neu, the superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, told a crowd of lawmakers that next year his district won’t hire new teachers because they won’t have the money. Class sizes will just get bigger.

Lawmakers filed hundreds of education bills this session, seeking solutions to teacher pay, testing, and school funding in general. Here is a list of more than 30 bills that KOSU will be following closely this legislative session.

BILLS CONCERNING EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS

Oklahoma Senator David Holt is proposing $10,000 teacher pay raises over the next few years. And Holt says this can be done without raising taxes. 

His plan is three pronged. School districts would be consolidated and excess money would go to teacher pay. All revenue growth after fiscal year 2017 would go directly to raises, and the the state would find another $200 million by reforming tax credits.

Holt said legislators have a moral obligation to raise pay, and help solve the teacher shortage.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

Jason McMullen taught in Oklahoma for 12 years before he finally decided to move to Arkansas. When he left, his salary was $41,000. His wife was a teacher too, and earned less.  

"It just got to a point where it’s hard to buy a house," he said. "It’s hard to pay bills, it’s hard to raise kids."

After all their bills were paid each month, McMullen says he and his wife had about $250 left for groceries and other living expenses.

"I just could not financially afford to stay any longer," he said.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that a proposed penny sales tax that would pay for a teacher pay raise and fund other areas of education in Oklahoma can be placed on a ballot for a statewide vote.

In a 6-3 decision Tuesday, the state's highest court rejected claims that measure unconstitutionally combines multiple subjects into a single vote.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

The state Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday over the legality of a petition to fund education through a one-cent sales tax. The debate focuses on whether the petition should be broken down in to multiple subjects, or remain as one.

Attorneys for OCPA Impact, argued that the initiative petition would do four things:

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