Oklahoma’s Teacher Shortage Deepens

District Leaders Describe Mixed Experiences with Emergency Certified Teachers 

Oklahoma’s schools are starting another school year with more than 500 teaching vacancies despite record numbers of emergency certified teachers and the elimination of more than 400 teaching positions since last school year, according to a new survey from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. 2017 survey graphic

Nearly 75 percent of districts that responded to the fourth annual OSSBA survey said they expect to rely more heavily on emergency-certified teachers this school year – a 10 percent jump compared to last year. By the end of this week, the state Board of Education is expected to have approved more than 1,400 emergency certificates for the current school year. That’s nearly double the number approved during the same period last year and exceeds the record of 1,160 approved for all of last school year.   

Districts also continue to increase class sizes and hire retired teachers as they struggle to find qualified teachers among a shrinking – and at times non-existent – applicant pool.  

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said parents, educators, community and business leaders and legislators must work together on a long-term funding plan that provides competitive teacher pay and resources to provide all students a high-quality education. Far too many teachers are moving to other states or leaving the profession, he said. 

“We’re robbing our children of the very people who can help ensure they enter adulthood well prepared for college and the workplace,” Hime said. “We can’t continue to let students bear the burden of adult inaction. Putting a great teacher in every classroom is the very least we can do for children, but we’re falling spectacularly short of fulfilling even that most basic obligation.” 

The survey, completed by 300 districts that serve nearly 78 percent of Oklahoma’s public school enrollment, found: 

  • Districts reported 536 teaching vacancies as of Aug. 1. 
  • Districts have eliminated 480 teaching positions since last school year. 
  • Districts reported eliminating 444 support positions since last school year. 
  • Two-thirds of districts reported hiring was much or somewhat worse than last school year. 
  • Special education teaching positions are the most difficult to fill, and many districts have reported special education teaching vacancies for multiple years. Special education teachers aren’t eligible for emergency certification. 
  • After special education, high school science, high school math, middle school math and elementary teaching positions were the most difficult to fill. 
  • More than half of districts said they would increase class sizes to cope with the teacher shortage. Projected average class sizes of 26 or more students were most common at the middle school (20 percent) and high school (21 percent) levels.  
  • Nearly 52 percent of districts said they may hire retired teachers and nearly 40 percent may hire adjunct instructors to fill gaps.    
  • Districts also plan to rely more heavily on existing staff by paying teachers to give up their planning period (33 percent) or assigning teaching duties to administrators (29 percent). 
  • One-third of districts anticipate they’ll offer fewer courses. 

As the number of emergency certified teachers continues to grow at a record pace, this year’s survey asked district leaders to describe their experience with such teachers. The results were decidedly mixed in part because some emergency certified teachers are looking for a new career while others view teaching as temporary employment. 

Some district leaders said they’re happy with the emergency certified teachers they’ve hired, and some have completed the requirements for full certification. Others lamented teachers who quit before the school year ended, struggled throughout the year or were unable to pass the tests needed for full certification. They also noted growing class sizes makes the job of an inexperienced teacher even more challenging. 

“The greatest difficulties for the emergency and alternatively certified teachers are classroom management and developing good relationships with parents and students,” said Stephanie Curtis, executive director of personnel and school support for Bartlesville Public Schools. 

Bartlesville, like many other districts, is providing extra and/or specialized training for emergency certified teachers and relying on veteran teachers to serve as mentors. 

Even districts that had positive experiences worry about the toll the growing number of emergency certified teachers is taking on experienced teachers who must step up as mentors either at the request of the district or simply out of their concern for students. Administrators also report spending significantly more time providing instructional support and coaching for emergency certified teachers. 

Amber Fitzgerald, executive director of human resources and communications for Enid Public Schools, said the state needs to offer more accelerated training options for those eligible for alternative and emergency certification. “It would not be a substitute for traditional training, but it would provide them with a stronger foundation,” she said. “We greatly appreciate the people who have stepped forward to fill the teaching gap, and we want to provide them with as much support as possible to be successful.” 

Some districts are actively working with higher education partners to develop additional support for teachers who lack traditional training but aren’t sure they’ll find funding. 

Concern about the long-term effects of the teacher shortage runs deep among school board members, said Roger Edenborough, a Goodwell school board member and OSSBA president. He said he hears often from superintendents concerned about the scarce number of applicants and from fellow board members that the increasing dependence on emergency certificates, retirees and adjunct instructors is a worrisome new norm. 

“I have a deep appreciation for the Oklahomans who have answered the urgent call to teach when schools are in dire need of help,” Edenborough said. “But an over reliance on untrained teachers comes at a cost — and it’s our children who are paying the price. It’s a desperate stop gap — not a solution.”  


Statement on Gov. Mary Fallin’s Call for Special Session

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime’s statement on Gov. Mary Fallin’s call for a special legislative session:

“Oklahoma’s historic teacher shortage is evidence of the state’s failure to properly invest in public education. I’m grateful Gov. Mary Fallin is asking legislators to address this desperate situation and hope they will embrace the opportunity to create a long-term funding plan for schools that provides regionally competitive teacher pay and equips schools with the tools and resources they need to improve student achievement.”

Oologah-Talala Board Member Named President of Oklahoma State School Boards Association

OSSBA’s officers for 2017-2017 are: Roger Edenborough, past president, Goodwell Public Schools; Mike Ray, first vice president, Guymon Public Schools, Don Tice, president, Oologah-Talala Public Schools; Scott Abbott, second vice president, Ft. Gibson Public Schools; Ed Tillery, president-elect, Whitebead Public Schools.

Don Tice, a longtime school board member from Oologah-Talala Public Schools, is the new president of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. He began his one-year term during the association’s annual conference Aug. 26.

Tice has served on the Oologah-Talala board since 1994 and on the OSSBA Board of Directors since 2005.

“I’m often asked why I would want to serve on a school board,” Tice said. “My response is: Why wouldn’t I? School board service provides an opportunity to help make sure Oklahoma children have an education that will take them wherever they want to go. It’s an honor to represent my fellow school board members across the state in my role as OSSBA president.”

Other officers serving for the 2017-2018 school year are: Ed Tillery, Whitebead Public Schools, president-elect; Mike Ray, Guymon Public Schools, first vice president; Scott Abbott, second vice president, Ft. Gibson Public Schools; and Roger Edenborough, Goodwell Public Schools, past president.

OSSBA 2017 All-State Board Honored


OSSBA honored its All-State board members on Aug. 26 at its annual conference in Oklahoma City. Pictured are OSSBA President Roger Edenborough, Choctaw-Nicoma Park board member Don Alsup, Berryhill Superintendent Mike Campbell (accepting on behalf of Gerry Thames), Oklahoma City board member Ron Millican, Pauls Valley board member Joe Don Looney, Anadarko board member Renee Hill, and OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime.

All-State board members Don Alsup, Joe Don Looney, Gerry Thames, Renee Hill and Ron Millican.

Five Oklahoma school board members have been honored as the Oklahoma State School Boards Association’s 2017 All-State School Board for their outstanding service on their local school boards and to the state. Combined, the winners have served more than five decades on their local school boards.

The honorees are: Don Alsup, Choctaw-Nicoma Park; Gerry Thames, Berryhill; Ron Millican, Oklahoma City; Renee Hill, Anadarko; and Joe Don Looney, Pauls Valley. Alsup also was selected as the recipient of the Buddy Spencer Leadership Award.

“Local school board members play a critical role in our communities as they work to make sure our children are well-prepared for the future,” said OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime. “We are proud to honor these board members for their dedication, commitment and service.”

The winners were honored at the annual Oklahoma State School Boards Association/Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration joint conference on Aug. 26 in Oklahoma City.

Alsup has served for two decades on the Choctaw-Nicoma Park board, where he is recognized for his dedication, his accessibility to patrons and for holding administrators accountable.

Thames is a Berryhill native who has served on his board for 12 years. He is active in other community and professional organizations in addition to his school board responsibilities.

Millican has served on the Oklahoma City school board since 2010 and serves as the board’s academic committee chairman. He also serves as the district’s representative on the OSSBA Board of Directors.

Hill has served on the Anadarko school board for five years and founded the annual community Back to School Expo, which provides local students with a great start to the school year.

Looney is a visionary board member who has served for 13 years. He also serves as region director on OSSBA’s board of directors.

The All-State board is an honorary board that includes five of the most outstanding board members of the year. Nominations can come from superintendents or other board members, and winners are selected by a committee of board members who serve on OSSBA’s board of directors. The selection committee doesn’t include board members from nominee districts. Each winner received $400 for their district to spend on instructional materials and will be recognized at OSSBA’s annual conference in August.

The committee also selects one All-State board member to receive the Buddy Spencer Leadership Award. The recipient is someone who demonstrates leadership on a local or state level and a dedication to improving his or her boardsmanship. The award includes $600 for the district to spend on instructional materials.

Lewis Associates Wins OSSBA’s Architectural Exhibition

Ponca City-based Lewis Associates Architects has been honored by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association for its outstanding architectural work at Pioneer Technology Center.

“Excellent building design improves the learning experience, and it’s important to recognize that connection,” said Shawn Hime, OSSBA executive director.

The company was presented with the annual architectural People’s Choice Award on Aug. 26 at OSSBA’s annual conference. In order to be eligible, a school project in Oklahoma must be designed by a licensed Oklahoma architect. Submitted projects must be completed between Jan. 1, 2006-Aug. 1, 2017. Attendees at the annual conference selected the winning project.

The 16,637-square-foot health sciences addition was constructed by construction manager Kyler Construction Group (formerly Sooner Construction) of Ponca City.

“The excellent outcome was due to a collaborative effort between an engaged client, our design staff and diligent contractors. It was a true team effort,” said Troy Lewis, Principal of Lewis Associates Architects.

Statement on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Decision

Statement on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Decision from Shawn Hime, executive director, Oklahoma State School Boards Association:

“I urge Gov. Mary Fallin to quickly call a special session and give legislators the opportunity to create a bipartisan budget that prioritizes Oklahoma’s children and public education. Starting the school year amid budget uncertainty is bad for children and bad for schools. Oklahoma desperately needs a budget with long-term revenue sources to ensure our schools have the resources needed to keep and hire the best educators and provide a high-quality education for every child. “

Summer 2017

FY18 Budget Statement

Statement on FY18 state budget from Shawn Hime, executive director, Oklahoma State School Boards Association:

“This legislative session began with hope and optimism that legislators were committed to delivering on a long-overdue teacher pay raise, structural budget reform that would provide a foundation for a long-term funding solution for public education and constructive education policy measures.

Over-the top partisan bickering blocked reasonable compromise. During the four months the Legislature was in session, schools sustained $93.3 million in state funding reductions. Where was the outrage and urgency?

I’m thankful there was no cut to the state aid funding formula. But this budget does not provide hope for educators nor solutions to schools’ most pressing challenges. Oklahoma’s historic teacher shortage will continue to grow without a long-term vision and funding plan for education that includes competitive teacher pay. Enrollment is increasing, as are class sizes.

It’s unconscionable that surrounding states reached our current level of per-student funding more than a decade ago and yet we made no dent in this education investment gap. Our children deserve better.

Oklahoma’s education, business and elected state leaders must immediately come together to develop a bipartisan plan for funding education, addressing the teacher shortage and equipping schools with the resources needed to provide a high-quality education for every child. That should be the first legislative action next session.”


Statement on state budget negotiations

Statement from Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime:

“I’ve been optimistic this session that state leaders would live up to their public statements in support of public education and increased teacher pay. That optimism is quickly fading. We need bold leadership now.

Legislators and state leaders need to quit having press conferences, stay off social media, quit wasting time and get in a room together to work out a budget that’s best for Oklahoma. We can’t afford another year of stop-gap budget measures that fail to stop the bleeding. Just last night, school boards across the state cut millions from their budgets that will leave children with fewer educational opportunities. This is no way to run a state.

All of the plans introduced for votes to date fall woefully short of what Oklahoma needs to return to stable financial ground. The final budget must:

·         Include $1 billion in recurring revenue;

·         Have minimum common education and career technology appropriation levels at least equal to the initial FY17 budget and also covers the state’s required payment for teacher health insurance; and

·         Include additional funding for a multi-year teacher pay raise so Oklahoma schools can compete with our surrounding states and the private sector for the best and brightest teachers.

Oklahomans are counting on real solutions to the state’s budget challenges. Don’t let our children down.”

OSSBA Legislative Alerts for April 7


OSSBA issued a trio of legislative alerts today on several key bills that are in committee next week. You can read more about each bill and find contact information for the respective committees in the emails below:

Reading Sufficiency Act (third-grade reading bill/retention) and mandatory grading policies: Read the alert

Proposed changes to ad valorem tax code: Read the alert

Charter schools, bond issues & district property: Read the alert

You can see all OSSBA alerts, legislative updates and tracking lists here.