A teacher’s desk sits empty. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World file

Oklahoma is poised to break last year’s record-setting number of emergency certifications for nonaccredited teachers in just three months.

Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education said about 915 more emergency certifications are expected to be approved when the Oklahoma State Board of Education meets this week.

In the first two months of hiring for the 2018-19 academic year, the state board already approved 1,237 emergency certifications. In all 12 months of 2017-18, 1,975 were approved.

In 2011-12, Oklahoma issued just 32 emergency teaching certificates in a single year.

This growing reliance by school districts on new hires who have not yet completed the state’s requirements for either traditional or alternative certification is one of the strongest indicators that the statewide teacher shortage has not yet reached bottom.

Two weeks ago, Steffie Corcoran, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said administrators there were expecting the new batch of emergency certifications in August to be on par with August 2017’s group of 574.

But the state saw a last-minute surge in requests from districts desperate to fill classroom teaching vacancies as students return from summer break across the state.

“We are now experiencing the full weight of a crisis we have been warning of for the past three years,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said. “It is no surprise, and our children have paid the price of years of inaction which cannot be immediately reversed.”

Tulsa Public Schools spokeswoman Emma Garrett-Nelson said the district has 276 new hires with or in the process of getting emergency certification.

Released last week, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association’s fifth annual statewide survey to gauge the extent of the teacher shortage found that public schools in Oklahoma are starting another academic year with nearly 500 teaching vacancies.

More than half of superintendents in districts that serve nearly 78 percent of all public school students in the state reported that teacher hiring is worse this year compared to last year.

Skeptics of Oklahoma’s teacher shortage point to the fact that there are shortages of teaching applicants in other states.

The certificates allow individuals to be employed as teachers before they complete the education or training requirements for regular or alternative certification. Some are certified teachers who lack certification in the subject matter or grade level in which they are needed to teach, but the vast majority are newcomers to education.

School superintendents have to certify to the state that no certified candidates were available to fill a position they wish to fill with someone who needs an emergency certificate.

Because of the teacher shortage, state law was changed two years ago to allow teachers to teach for two academic years with emergency certification.

Andrea Eger 



Twitter: @AndreaEger

Staff Writer

Andrea is a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, she has been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470