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.”  


OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime Statement on Teacher Walkout

Statement from OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime on Teacher Walkout:

“All the important moments of the last few weeks have been about Oklahoma’s children. Today, they are the victors.

The classrooms that are key to their future have been in crisis, and Oklahomans stepped up and declared that our children deserve better. This is a proud moment for our state.

Lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin agreed to a new half-billion dollar investment in education and the state’s largest-ever teacher pay raise. Teachers, parents, school board members, administrators, businesses, community partners and the faith community advocated strongly on behalf of children at the Capitol while making sure children were cared for while school was out.

Investing in education and ensuring elected officials are committed to public education must be the new normal for Oklahoma, and I believe Oklahomans are committed to a future that’s much better than our past. Today isn’t the end game for our children, our teachers or our schools. It’s a new beginning.”

Statement from OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime on Passage of Revenue Bills

Today, the Senate’s passage of more revenue puts schools in their strongest financial position in more than a decade. The revenue bills approved the last two weeks generate half a billion dollars in new funding for schools.

Legislators clearly heard the voices of Oklahoma’s teachers, parents and education advocates who said that continued investment in children, teachers and their schools is critical. The phenomenal advocacy of Oklahoma’s teachers has created momentum to ensure that ongoing investment in education is the new normal and that those who want to represent Oklahomans at the state Capitol must support a long-term funding plan for competitive teacher pay and well-resourced classrooms. From every corner of the state, Oklahomans joined with teachers in demanding better for our children, and I’m grateful.

My hope now is local communities will begin a serious conversation about the need for children to return to class so they can finish the school year strong and ensure education employees can continue to be paid.

OSSBA Executive Director Applauds Teacher Pay Raise Passage

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime Applauds Teacher Pay Raise Passage

“This is an incredible moment for Oklahoma teachers and students. I’m so grateful to the senators who voted yes tonight, to the many legislators who chose children and compromise over politics and public education’s tireless advocates.

But my biggest appreciation is for Oklahoma’s teachers, who have shouldered the burden of a severe teacher shortage and budget cuts with admirable dedication and resolve. Even when asked over and over again to do more with less, they stayed to educate and love our children. They have earned the largest teacher pay raise in state history and a debt of gratitude that no amount of money can repay.”

OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime Applauds Education Funding and Teacher Pay Raise Plan


Statement from OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime on Education Funding and Teacher Pay Raise Plan:

I applaud state representatives for taking an important first step toward a long-term funding plan for public schools that includes competitive teacher pay. Our teachers, students and schools need this. This plan addresses the most immediate crisis in our classrooms: the shrinking pool of educators willing to teach in Oklahoma.

Enacting the largest teacher pay raise in state history and increasing teacher pay above the regional average will strengthen the teacher pipeline. Offering the largest raises to the state’s most experienced educators ensures Oklahoma can retain top talent while recruiting the best and brightest young people to the profession. Additional funding for operations and a support employee pay raise recognize the damaging cumulative effect of prior budget cuts and the critical role instructional aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other support employees play in the lives of our children.

Investing in education isn’t a one-time event, and this plan must be only the beginning of a new chapter for supporting public education in Oklahoma. Schools need funding to hire back teachers to help reduce class sizes. They also need resources to better equip classrooms, provide more educational opportunities for students and offer much-needed health and mental health support services.

I urge the Senate to pass this plan. Our teachers and students have waited long enough.


OSSBA statement on education funding and teacher pay

Statement from OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime regarding education funding and teacher pay:

“Our hope is legislators will unite and act swiftly on a plan that will encourage Oklahoma’s hard-working teachers and keep them in the classroom. Every day that passes without a solution for long-term education funding and competitive teacher pay exacerbates an already devastating teacher shortage.

We are committed to working with legislators to find solutions and urge all Oklahomans to contact their legislators in support of increased education funding and teacher pay.”

Employment Law Q & A 

By Jessica Sherrill, Director of OPSUCA and Staff Attorney 

Can a support employee who is contracted for 150 days be terminated for cause without a hearing? 

Yes, a support employee who has worked less than a year, or 172 days, can be terminated without any due process. In fact, school law doesn’t require the school to provide any reason for termination. The support employee is at-will for that first year. (70 O.S. § 6-101.40) While it’s not required, it is preferred to give a reason for termination for unemployment defense purposes, but also so the employee isn’t left with questions. 

Should or can the school board interview employee candidates? 

The only employee the school board should interview is the superintendent. Although the board, in some cases, can interview candidates for a job, they shouldn’t. First, it’s not the school board’s role to be involved in the formation of recommendations for hire because that is an administrative function. Secondly, it is quite likely a candidate is a current employee, and an interview could avail the board member of personnel information that is inappropriate outside of a due process hearing. 

Can a board do their own background check on a new hire? 

A school board member can conduct an internet-based search, like on Google, OSCN or Facebook and even file an open records request with the school to obtain a redacted job application and resume on a newly hired employee. Anyone can do that. However, this is the role of your administration and should occur before a recommendation for hire is brought to the school board. This would be redundant. Further, the school board member would not be able to use that information in deciding personnel matters as the employee has already been hired. After that point, the school board member is to remain unbiased. Again, just because one can doesn’t mean one should.    

How can I, as a school board member, take a more active role in employment? 

The best way you can take an active role in employment is by hiring and employing a superintendent who fits well within your community and will achieve the goals and vision of the school board. Also, become engaged and involved in policy making that impacts your employees. Talk with your superintendent about opportunities to recruit and retain teachers, as well as tighten up or loosen policies that impact the school staff in ways that set a positive work culture. For example, your school board could explore whether and how much it would cost to pay employees twice a month rather than once or review your school calendar to ensure it is in the best light to support your teachers.   


The board’s role in employment can be complicated. Knowing how the school board fits into your school’s employment process is important. Feel free to contact Jessica at OPSUCA if you have any questions. The Oklahoma Public School Unemployment Compensation Account (OPSUCA) team works closely with you and your staff to reduce, if not remove, the time, energy, and pressure it takes to handle unemployment claims matters.



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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.