As children go back to school, you may be noticing their class sizes have grown. That's one of several byproducts of the teacher shortage in Oklahoma.
At Moore’s brand new Timber Creek Elementary, classrooms sit empty because the district can’t find teachers to fill them. Meanwhile, some classes have more than 30 students.
“Even three or four years ago we would post a position and we would have five or ten or fifteen applicants for that one job. Now we have zero,” Moore Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines said.
Moore, like districts across the state, is in crisis a result of teacher salaries that aren't competitive with surrounding states, Romines said.
“When you can’t fill a math position at one of our high schools, a required math position, you’ve got a problem,” Romines said. “To me, that’s a crisis.”
A recent survey by the Oklahoma State School Board Association found there are not only 1,000 open teacher positions in the state but 600 teaching jobs have been eliminated.
In addition, the state is considering 664 emergency certification requests. Those are for teachers that don't meet state requirements but will be put in the classroom.
“That’s over 2,200 positions that aren’t being filled by highly qualified teachers, the kind of teachers that I want in my child’s classroom,” said Shawn Hime, OSSBA’s executive director.
At Timber Creek, instead of hiring a teacher that isn't qualified, they decided to put a teacher's aid with the larger classes.
It's certainly not an ideal solution, but will have to work until someone comes up with a formula to keep Oklahoma teachers here.
“We have got to come up with a plan we cannot continue to let this happen,” Romines said. “And I think there are a lot of people across this great state that can sit around a table and devise a plan to move forward.”
In response to the survey, state House Speaker Jeff Hickman and state House Republican education leaders issued a statement, calling for a cooperative approach to address the shortage.
One of those solutions includes looking at reallocating the dollars the state now spends on public schools.
“Our teachers need competitive wages,” said Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, a member of the House Education Committee. “The 33 percent increase in the number of non-teaching staff members in Oklahoma schools from Fiscal Year 1992 to FY2013 when our enrollment grew by 14 percent and the number of teachers only grew by 11 percent is concerning at the least and merits a legislative review. If the growth of non-teaching staff had even been equal to the 14 percent increase in the number of students, it would mean roughly $294 million dollars would be available annually to significantly raise the salaries of our classroom teachers.”