New School Year Brings Renewed Teacher Shortage Concerns in Oklahoma

News 9 - August 15, 2023 6:24 am

The 2023-2024 school year has begun for many schools across Oklahoma. However, many districts across the state are still looking to fill teaching positions.

Between the teacher shortage and the climate of the State Department of Education, many teachers say they are concerned for the future of their professions.

There were over 1,000 vacant teaching positions in Oklahoma for the 2022-2023 school year, according to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. This is a significant jump from the 680 vacancies from the 2021-2022 school year.

The same survey from OSSBA showed almost 3,000 emergency teaching certifications in Oklahoma in 2022.

The primary worry for most teachers is the impact on students.

“We are in it for the kids, so that’s what I try to keep my focus on,” said Noble speech and drama teacher Kevan Dunkelberg.

Teaching requires selflessness as teachers shape the next generation.

“The only thing that we’re here for is to educate our kids,” Dunkelberg said. “To serve as a resource, as a mentor.”

But more and more, people are turning away from teaching, saying it’s becoming more difficult.

“We have 30 some-odd full-time teachers, so even losing a small handful, I mean, that’s a large chunk,” said Dunkelberg. “That takes away opportunities for our students.”

Dunkelberg is in his third year of teaching.

“I think for myself and a lot of teachers, we have concerns,” Dunkelberg said. “It feels like we’re being forced to reinvent the wheel a little bit, and that’s challenging. We already have enough on our plates.”

Due to teacher shortages across the country, the remaining teachers are stretched thin. Looming concerns from HB 1775 and increased pressure from the state level, Dunkelberg says, are driving more teachers away.

HB 1775, Prohibition of Race and Sex Discrimination, resulted in one Norman teacher resigning after she provided a resource to access banned books. Ryan Walters then attempted to revoke her teaching license.

“Because the climate is just… it’s not why they went into education,” Dunkelberg said.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters is hoping more money is the solution.

“We’ve got a Teacher Empowerment Program where teachers, for the first time, can make over $100,000 to stay in the classroom,” Walters said.

The Oklahoma Teacher Empowerment Program provides an increase in pay in exchange for more professional development days for public school teachers, if the district applies and is approved. Through this, teachers can make $3,000 to $10,000 more from their district that will be matched by Teacher Empowerment funds. Teachers in ‘economically disadvantaged’ schools can also receive a one-time stipend between $1,500 and $5,000. The amount a teacher receives is based on teaching experience, observation, student performance, etc. but is decided by the district.

But Dunkelberg is worried the Teacher Empowerment Program may be too little.

“Yes, pay is important. We want to be paid what we’re worth. But I think that’s lower on the priority list than just basic respect and support,” Dunkleberg said.

According to OSSBA, 25 percent of school districts increased teacher income, through salary or retention stipends, from 2021 to 2022. The same survey showed 60 percent of schools increased income for support professionals, as well.

Oklahoma, in recent years, has fallen behind the regional average for teacher compensation and, possibly more importantly, is far behind in per pupil spending, according to OSSBA.

Per-pupil spending is how much the state invests in each student, individually. Oklahoma is last among surrounding states and 45th nationally, according to the Oklahoma Education Association.

Education Investment Gap

Image Provided By: Oklahoma State School Board Association

 

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