Request of more than 900 emergency teacher certifications approved in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY - Members on the Oklahoma State Board of Education have approved a request of more than 900 emergency teacher certifications.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education approved the request of 916 emergency certifications, bringing the total to 2,153 for this school year.

According to State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, less than 10 percent of the certifications approved are renewals.

"What we are seeing and what we are experiencing in Oklahoma right now is the full weight of this crisis of a teacher shortage that we’ve been warning about for the last three and half years," Hofmeister said. "In 2011-2012, there were only 32 requests made of school districts. That means that, 32 times, they could not find statewide someone to fill a position that was applying with certification already in place. Look at where we are today. We have - in just three months of June, July and August - school districts have had to recruit someone 2,153 times and bring them to the state board."

Hofmeister said the need comes amid local school boards being unable to fulfill positions. Right now, she said the state is short about 500 teachers.

"When you have 500 unfilled positions, that means that they have not even been able to recruit someone to become emergency certified and step in. Those would be classes that have been, either been combined with growing class sizes yet again or there have been programs that would have been completely eliminated," she said.

Dr. Rick Cobb, superintendent of Mid-Del Public Schools, said they have about 75 teachers who hold emergency certifications. This week, the district posted five new open teaching positions.

Cobb said, overall, emergency certified teachers do fill a need. Without them, classes could be larger as school enrollment continues to climb.

"Some of them become outstanding teachers, but some of them, since this is not something they’ve invested years in making their career, some of them, they come in, they try it, and they’re gone after a year and we have to start over," he said. "The concern I have is that we're lessening value we place on licensing and training. We’re basically saying we’re going to throw you into a job and you’ll learn it as you go. Education's too valuable for that to be our default mode for hiring people."

Not every school has emergency certified teachers this year. Rick Rogers, superintendent of Shidler Public Schools, said they are fortunate and were able to bring back some retired teachers.

"Also, we have a four-day week, and I think that has also helped us a lot. We’re a rural district, about 250 students K-12," Rogers said. "In this state, we’re in a crisis with teacher positions, and it’s going to take time to rebuild the candidate pool and I don’t know how long that it’s going to take."

Cobb noted the pay raises for teachers passed earlier this spring during the Legislative session were a positive step forward. To recruit teachers who want to create careers in classrooms, he said it's a matter of better funding and respect for the profession.

"Over the last 10 years or so, I think respect for the teaching profession has eroded in society, and I don’t know the root cause of that is," he said. "This spring, we started to see the state taking a step forward in a positive way that hasn’t been done in a long time. I think teachers in general or people who are considering becoming teachers need to see more steps like that."

News 4 spoke with Oklahoma House Majority floor leader Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City on Thursday about the issue. He said he agreed, the pay raises were a good first step but the Legislature is not done fighting.

Echols said they remained committed to continuing the work.