OKLAHOMA CITY - The state’s school boards association says nearly 5,000 additional teachers are needed to match the average student-teacher ratio in the region.
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association says the most recent increase in education funding has helped a little, but there is still work to be done.
“That increase helped us take a first step, but we’re still last in the region, almost $1,100 per student behind the states in our region,” said OSSBA executive director Shawn Hime.
A bigger gap, according to Hime, is the student-teacher ratio. The regional average for Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Colorado, and Texas is 14.6 students for every certified teacher, including counselors and librarians. That does not equate to the number of students in a classroom.
Oklahoma’s average is 16.32 students per certified teacher.
“At the local level, parents see that more than anything. That, how many students are in my child’s class? How many students does my children’s teacher have to deal with on a daily basis?” he said. “Oklahoma has a state law, class size requirements that have been waived over the last eight years because of our budget cuts, so really the goal is to go back in being Oklahoma state law to ensure that our student to teacher ratio meets that law.”
According to Hime, Oklahoma ultimately needs a long-term plan to fund education.
“Similar to what we did with roads and bridges to say, what can we do in the next five to eight years to invest in education annually so we can get to the level to compete with states around us so we recruit the teachers back and retaining the ones we already have?” he said.
El Reno Public Schools Superintendent Craig McVay says in his district, the student-teacher ratio is just below the regional average at 13.3 students per certified teacher. According to him, part of that is due to the 19 emergency certified teachers the district has this school year.
"We would be far greater if we had to just rely on traditionally certified staff," McVay said. "We’re fully staffed right now. We expect that will change over the holidays. We have a couple of teachers that will be out having babies, so we’ll be a little shorthanded there."
The bottom line, according to educators, is that Oklahoma needs a long-term plan.
"I think the election in November proved to everyone that we don’t want to be last and I say this all the time. If this was on the football field at Norman or Stillwater and we were losing to New Mexico and Arkansas and Kansas every year, we wouldn’t stay the same. We would be wanting to move forward," he said. "And so it’s time. We have a new head coach up there in Governor Stitt, and so we’re really anticipating what could happen in the future."
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