OKLAHOMA CITY – 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.
Shawn Sheehan, who was named Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, announced that he made the decision to move south of the Red River to make more money in the classroom.
“At the end of the day, the simple truth is that we can be paid a respectable wage for doing the same job- this job we love very much- by heading out of state. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but I will leave with my head held high. I poured my heart and soul into my teaching at Norman High School. I represented our state at the highest level. I tried to help find funding sources via SQ 779. I ran for state senate. I started a non-profit focused on teacher recruitment and retention that has spread nationwide. I’ve done everything I know how to do to try and make things better. We could stay, but it would cost our family – specifically our sweet baby girl. My wife and I are not willing to do that. We, like you, want what’s best for our children and she deserves to grow up in a state that values education. And so do your children,” Sheenan wrote.
For teachers who decided to stay in Oklahoma, many are being forced to pay for supplies out of their own pockets.
Teresa Dank, a third grade teacher in Tulsa, turned to panhandling to help raise money for school supplies.
“It all adds up week after week, and month after month,” she said. “So it’s a huge need.”
Now, state officials have proof that teacher pay is a main reason educators are leaving Oklahoma classrooms.
A comprehensive survey released by the Oklahoma State Department of Education found that teacher pay and education funding are the top reasons that former teachers left the classroom.
The survey, which was funded by the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, was completed by 7,546 former teachers. The survey results focused on the 5,487 respondents under the age of 65 with active teaching certificates who were not currently teaching in Oklahoma.
In all, 90 percent of that group said they believe other teachers were leaving the classroom because of low pay.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister noted that 31 percent of respondents said that they would likely return to the classroom if the pay was better.
“As our state continues suffering the effects of an unprecedented teacher shortage, Oklahoma cannot afford to ignore the results of this survey,” Hofmeister said. “Pay is no cure-all to staving off this shortage, but without regionally competitive compensation, we are trying to win a home run contest with one arm held behind our back.”
The majority of respondents also felt that the quality of their work environment had deteriorated rather than improved.
“While the survey reveals that a number of factors attribute to the teacher shortage,” said Hofmeister, “it also confirms that increasing teacher pay is the single most effective first step to reducing the crisis and perhaps even convincing teachers who have left the field to return.”