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.”  


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Statement from Shawn Hime on HB1033xx

Statement from Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, on HB1033xx vote

Today’s disappointing vote rolled out the welcome mat for Texas, Kansas and Arkansas to lure away even more of Oklahoma’s talented teachers. Some lawmakers continue to play partisan politics while students and teachers continue to suffer. That’s unacceptable; they’ve suffered enough.

We are today in the same place we’ve been for years: in increasingly desperate need of solutions for the teacher shortage and a long-term funding plan for public education. Oklahomans can’t give up the fight because 700,000 children are counting on us.

I’m grateful to all of the Oklahomans who descended on the Capitol today in support of children and teachers; for the leaders and supporters of the Step Up Oklahoma coalition for their leadership and advocacy; and for the lawmakers who listened to Oklahomans who said our teachers and children deserve better.

Oklahomans must continue pushing their legislators to work collaboratively and demand they deliver a teacher pay raise. As voters, we must be ready come election day to hold our elected officials accountable.


Stepping Up: Teacher pay raise and revenue worthy of support

By Shawn Hime

“Education is the key to building a better Oklahoma.”

That recent comment from Phil Albert, a Claremore business owner, a University of Oklahoma regent and a member of the Step Up Oklahoma coalition, was more than just a statement of fact. It was a much-needed message of hope for educators, families and communities.

A $5,000 teacher pay raise anchors the coalition’s recent recommendations to improve the state’s fiscal stability and economic competitiveness. Albert, BancFirst Executive Chairman David Rainbolt and many others involved in the coalition are longtime supporters of public education. They are among the countless Oklahomans frustrated with the legislature’s inability to pass a revenue plan needed to stabilize the budget and invest in a long-overdue teacher pay raise.

As coalition members have said repeatedly over the last few weeks, the time to pass a new budget plan and teacher pay raise is now. Consider:

  • Oklahoma teachers continue to leave the state and the profession for higher-paying jobs.
  • The number of college students pursuing an education degree is shrinking.
  • The 1,917 emergency teaching certificates issued for this school year is a record.
  • In the last four years, more than 75 percent of the state’s school districts have sought emergency teaching certificates to fill vacancies.
  • Class sizes are growing, and many districts have been forced to cut back on courses because they can’t find a qualified teacher.
  • Recent federal data show Oklahoma is falling even further behind states in our region and the nation in education investment. On average, our surrounding states invest nearly $1,700 more per student on education.
  • Surrounding states reached our current level of per-student education investment a decade ago.

All the statistics simply boil down to this: Thousands of children must learn to read, write and do math without the benefit of a highly qualified teacher. Many high school students are shut out of advanced level math and science classes or foreign language classes for lack of a teacher. We’re shortchanging our children, robbing them of opportunities to be better prepared for college and the workforce and crippling economic development efforts.

Oklahoma is in competition for businesses, jobs and families. A teacher pay raise is a strategic investment. Children –- and educators — in Oklahoma are worth just as much as those in other states, and our competitive standing as a state is hurt by the failure to ensure a high-quality, well-trained teacher for each and every student.

This is a crossroads moment. Oklahoma has a lot of catching up to do, and we applaud the Step Up Oklahoma’s coalitions collaborative efforts to push for new revenue as both a step up and a step forward. A $5,000 teacher pay raise will reward the state’s hard-working educators and help make Oklahoma school districts more competitive in the teacher labor market. A more stable state budget will enable future education investments to further close the education investment gap, ensuring the best days are ahead for our children and state.

Hime is executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.


OSSBA Names Outstanding School Board Members

Five Oklahoma school board members have been named to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association’s 2018 All-State School Board for their outstanding service on their local school boards and to the state. A sixth board member was selected as the OSSBA Distinguished Service Award honoree.

The winners are:

  • Les Pettitt, a member of the Bethany Public Schools board since 2002.
  • Debbie Biehler, a member of the Chisholm Trail Technology Center board since 1987.
  • Cindy Nashert, a member of the Norman Public Schools board since 2013.
  • Jimmie Jarrell, a member of the Stratford Public Schools board since 2005.
  • Gary Percefull, a member of the Tulsa Public Schools board since 2003.

Percefull also was chosen as the Buddy Spencer Leadership Award winner, recognizing him as the year’s most outstanding board member.

Marilyn Mabrey Sulivant, who has served on the Green Country Technology Center board since 1990, was selected as OSSBA’s Distinguished Service Award winner.

“The role of local school board members is critical to ensuring 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 All-State board is an honorary board that includes five of the most outstanding board members of the year. Superintendents or other board members can submit nominations, and winners are selected by a committee of individuals who serve on OSSBA’s board of directors. The selection committee doesn’t include board members from nominee districts. Each winner receives $400 for their district to spend on instructional materials.

The committee also selects one All-State board member to receive the Buddy Spencer Leadership Award. The recipient must demonstrate 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.

The Distinguished Service Award honors a board member whose leadership includes distinguished service acts for students, school, professionals, patrons, community and/or state; and distinguished service to the OSSBA.

The winners are announced annually in January as part of school board recognition month activities. They will be honored at the annual Oklahoma State School Boards Association/Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration joint conference in August.

New National Data Show Oklahoma Falling Further Behind in Education Investment

Oklahoma is falling further behind neighboring states and the nation when it comes to education investment, according to new federal data released Tuesday.  

Despite a slight increase in per-student current spending in Oklahoma, the new report from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals the gap between per-student spending in Oklahoma compared to the regional average has widened by $115 million. Oklahoma would need to invest more than $1.1 billion to reach the regional per-student spending average based on the fiscal year 2015 data featured in the report. 

“This isn’t difficult math. We’re striving to compete with neighboring states for jobs and businesses while failing to keep pace with their investments in education,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “We’re already a decade behind our neighbors when it comes to education investment. It’s time to catch up and dream big for our children. The need for a long-term education funding plan to ensure competitive teacher pay and the classroom resources necessary for student success is dire.” 

The report data show: 

  • Oklahoma remains 48th in the nation and last in the region in per-student spending rankings. The region includes the states contiguous to Oklahoma: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas. 
  • Per-student spending in Oklahoma public schools increased from $7,995 in fiscal year 2014 to $8,075 in fiscal year 2015.  
  • Oklahoma’s per-student spending is $1,668 behind the regional average of $9,744. A year ago, federal data put the regional gap at about $1,500.  
  • Compared to the national average, Oklahoma’s per-student spending gap grew from $3,071 to $3,379. 

While education investment lags, the teacher shortage grows. Oklahoma has approved a record number of emergency teaching certifications, leaving tens of thousands of Oklahoma children in classrooms with underqualified and underprepared teachers. Many class sizes are growing and some courses have been eliminated as districts have struggled to tackle the double-whammy of the teacher shortage and tight budgets. 

Much time and energy have been needlessly devoted to criticizing local education spending instead of focusing on the benefits of properly investing in education, Hime said. 

“This data should provide a sobering reality check and create a sense of urgency. A bold investment in education is key to better preparing our children for the future, catalyzing economic development and creating a more prosperous future for our state.” 


Winter 2017

OSSBA Statement on Governor Fallin’s Executive Order

Statement from Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association:

“The governor’s action today was typical of the cheap political theater we continue to see at the state Capitol and shamefully ignores the difficult reality facing Oklahoma schools.  

Calling for school consolidation is simply a distraction designed to score political points. Oklahoma has a serious revenue problem that’s only being compounded by a chronic lack of leadership. Classrooms absolutely need a massive investment of resources – but that won’t happen by shifting a few dollars around in already razor-thin budgets. 

Oklahoma invests $1,500 less per student in public education than surrounding states, and it would take more than $1 billion to reach the regional per-student average. Texas – the state that continues to lure away our teachers – reached our current level of per-student investment a decade ago. 

Telling our schools to again turn over the couch cushions in search of pennies isn’t leadership. School districts spend less than 4 percent of their budgets on administrative costs. State law already caps how much school districts can spend on administration. 

The governor is on shaky constitutional ground in calling for school consolidation. Article 13 of the Oklahoma Constitution vests the Legislature with regulation of public schools, and Oklahoma communities elect local school members to govern schools in the best of interest of students. 

I’m angry and frustrated that our state’s elected leaders lack a true sense of urgency about the crisis in our classrooms. They are watching as teachers cross the border for better pay and support, ignoring the thousands of children who are in classrooms with underprepared and underqualified teachers and are crushing the hope of the educators who opt to stay. 

Oklahomans must demand better of our elected leaders. ”


Special Legislative Session Statement

Statement from Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime on the Special Legislative Session:

“Make no mistake: The legislature’s inability to pass a forward-thinking budget is bad for Oklahoma’s children. Thousands of Oklahoma students are being taught by underqualified, underprepared teachers in overcrowded classrooms.

Gov. Fallin asked lawmakers to fund a teacher pay raise to help stem a record teacher shortage. Instead, this session offered only heartbreak for the dedicated educators who have opted to stay in Oklahoma despite an average teacher salary and per-student education investment that rank among the worst in the nation.

Political gamesmanship, partisan sniping and even squabbling within parties dominated the special session. We saw legislators — including members of the majority and minority leadership — sit out important votes. Too often, our elected leaders traded barbs in news releases and press conferences instead of channeling that energy into productive gatherings around a negotiating table.

The glimpses of bipartisanship and leadership were appreciated but fleeting. Oklahomans –especially our children — deserve so much better. We must hold our legislators accountable.”

Fall 2017