Educators: Special ed shortage affecting all students

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OKLAHOMA -- As the Edmond School District readies to welcome its students back from summer vacation, there's more than excitement in the air.

"It is getting scary," said Nancy Goosen, the district's director of special services.  "When you're faced with school starting on August 20th and you still have a
posting and several postings possibly, then you're looking at long-term subs and that's not good for any child."

The district started the summer with around 35 openings just in its special education department, but through an aggressive recruiting campaign, has filled almost all of the vacancies.

But still, Goosen said, the vacancies are returning more routinely, and the district is finding itself in a similar position year after year.

"It's very frustrating," she said. "We know the greatest impact on student success and learning is the teacher so when we can't grab hold of somebody outstanding and they go across the border because they can get 14 or 15 thousand dollars more, it's heart wrenching."

Educators say, that's the problem: Oklahoma just can't compete with other states when it comes to pay.

"Not only are they not staying, but we're not attracting teachers into the field," said Katherine Bishop, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association, who for 23 years taught special education. "The impact on students can be extensive because they're not able to receive the services that they need."

And it's not just special-needs students who are suffering, Bishop said.  Everyone in the classroom feels the effects of a teacher shortage.

"Our general educators are taking on more responsibility when there are less special educators," Bishop said. "Not only are they servicing them in their general education classroom, along with all the other students, but they do not have the techniques or expertise to work with our students with disabilities."

Parents like Kristi Funck fear their children only stand to lose in a more crowded environment.  Her son Dylan, who has Asperger Syndrome, will be a freshman in the Deer Creek district this year.

Deer Creek's human resources officer says the special education department is fully staffed, but different students receive different amounts of help.

Funck says Dylan will be in a classroom by himself this year -- different than years past.

"It's scary because he essentially gets lost in the shuffle," she said. "It's been proven that he needs the services. I understand that they have
staffing issues and shortages, but when it comes to your child not getting the help he needs to be successful, it's very worrisome."

Katherine Bishop of the OEA is worrying about the future too, particularly she says, if the state continues to cut education.

Bishop says no state has cut more money from education than Oklahoma since 2007 and the state ranks 48th in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries.

"The children of Oklahoma are our future," she said. "Every child has an opportunity to go to a public school and it is time for us to support those public schools and make them great public schools for our children."

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