Teacher Shortage Looms, Agencies And Lawmakers Respond

Wednesday, June 1st 2022, 6:35 pm


Lawmakers and state officials are taking a variety of steps to strengthen the pipeline of teachers entering and staying in the workforce.

Teachers struggled with behavior issues in classrooms, the Omicron surge this past winter, a lack of substitutes and more entering 2022. 

Longtime teacher Jami Cole said declining respect for the profession and increasing demands have pushed teachers out of the classroom. 

‘That’s what’s really shocking to me is the amount of veteran teachers that are taking early retirement or just staying,” Cole said. “We’re done altogether and just getting out of education completely.”

Cole heads up a Facebook group called Oklahoma Edvocates that has approximately 60,000 members. 

“Why are teachers still leaving Oklahoma to go to Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, surrounding districts?” Cole said. “Money is a big factor, but it’s not the biggest factor.”

Oklahoma’s teacher workforce has declined for years, but pandemic-related stressors have brought new concerns about retention as teachers leave the classroom at higher rates. 

Related Story: Omicron Surge Stresses Schools, Teachers Returning After Holiday Break

Agencies are working to remove barriers for people to become teachers.

The State Department of Education announced Wednesday that it will accept the nationally-recognized Praxis exam for aspiring teachers to become certified in a content area. 

“This should really help take those who have been on our rolls as an emergency certified, and complete that process. Without (it), it just removes barriers, ensures a high standard and a high bar,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said.

The legislature made several moves this session to boost Oklahoma’s educator workforce. 

Governor Kevin Stitt signed a measure last week to provide matching funds for pay incentives that districts could opt-in to award career teachers for their time in the classroom and mentoring new teachers. 

House Bill 4388 creates funding for the program through surplus lottery commission funds. 

Related Story: Teacher Incentive Bills Aim To Keep Educators In Roles Longer, Raise Pay

Bill author and State Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Bristow) said the measure addresses recruitment and retention. 

“Our colleges of education throughout the state of Oklahoma are graduating annually,” Hilbert said. “Only about 50% as many graduates as we have retirees. Simultaneously, 50% of educators are leaving the profession by year five. So the math just simply doesn’t work when you take those two things together.”  

New Oklahoma teachers will also receive cash incentives (approximately $25,000) to start their career.

“Targeting those students interested in education and those brand-new teachers to keep them in the profession,” said Rep. Hilbert. 

Lawmakers also removed the OGET exam requirement. The ACT and SAT are accepted as a proxy for OGET scores. 

Representative Hilbert expects this effort to pay off in the long run, but are all of these new efforts enough? 

The state’s biggest teacher’s union said more needs to be done. 

“The money that they’re going to pay to go into a career that has been so disrespected over these past two years,” OEA president Catherine Bishop said. “It makes it very difficult to recruit future educators.”

News 9 has requested data on the number of teachers retiring or leaving the profession from state offices.