OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite receiving a pay raise, education officials say they are still in desperate need of teachers.
In March, the Oklahoma Education Association announced that it was seeking a $10,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers over three years, a $5,000 pay raise for support professionals over three years, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees, and the restoration of funding for education and core government services.
OEA announced that it was tentatively planning a teacher walkout for April 2 if legislators didn’t meet those demands.
Days before the walkout was set to begin, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that raises teachers’ salaries by an average of $6,100. It also gives $1,250 raises for support staff and adds $50 million in education funding.
Although the bill almost reached the salary goal, organizers said it did little to restore education funding that has been cut for nearly a decade.
For nine days, thousands of educators and supporters headed to the Capitol to demand an increase to education funding. However, the walkout came to a sudden end.
As a result of little legislative movement regarding educational funding, dozens of teachers announced that they would be leaving the classroom or moving to teach in other states.
Before the school year began, more than half of superintendents surveyed by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association said that teacher hiring was worse this year than last.
Last month, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved a request for 916 emergency teaching certification, bringing the total to more than 2,100.
“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,” State Superintendent Joy 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.
“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.
"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."
On Thursday, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association announced that hundreds of other emergency certifications will go before the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
"When the state board of education meets tomorrow, it will be asked to approve 412 more emergency teaching certificates. This will be the most approved in September (245 last year) and adds to the record number already approved this school year," it posted on Facebook.
In all, that would bring the number of emergency certified teachers this year to 2,565.