“We’re robbing our children,” Oklahoma school districts begin the year with 536 teacher vacancies

OKLAHOMA CITY – As students across the state are back in class, school boards say they are still being affected by the teacher shortage.

For years, teachers have been asking Oklahoma lawmakers to find a way to fund a pay raise for educators across the state.

When another legislative session came to a close without a teacher pay raise, many educators decided to leave the classroom or the Sooner State for better pay.

In May, Shawn Sheehan, who was named Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, announced that he  would move south of the Red River to make more money in the classroom.

“I hope my and my family’s departure, which is among many this year, makes a statement. We’re voting with our feet on this one,” he wrote.

Now, we’re getting a better look at just how bad the teacher shortage is across Oklahoma.

A release from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association states that Oklahoma school districts started the school year with more than 500 teaching vacancies.

In addition to the 536 vacancies, budget cuts have forced districts to eliminate an additional 480 teaching positions. Officials say that districts also reported eliminating 444 support positions since last school year.

When surveyed, the association says 75 percent of districts said they expect to rely more heavily on emergency-certified teachers this school year.

In fact, the Oklahoma Board of Education is expected to have approved more than 1,400 emergency certifications for this school year.

“We’re robbing our children of the very people who can help ensure they enter adulthood well prepared for college and the workplace,” OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said. “We can’t continue to let students bear the burden of adult inaction. Putting a great teacher in every classroom is the very least we can do for children, but we’re falling spectacularly short of fulfilling even that most basic obligation.”

Some districts say they are happy with the emergency certified teachers they have hired, while others say they tend to struggle throughout the year with growing class sizes.

“I have a deep appreciation for the Oklahomans who have answered the urgent call to teach when schools are in dire need of help,” Roger Edenborough, Goodwell school board member and OSSBA president, said. “But an over reliance on untrained teachers comes at a cost — and it’s our children who are paying the price. It’s a desperate stop gap — not a solution.”