A new statewide survey found public schools in Oklahoma are starting another academic year with nearly 500 teaching vacancies.
The fifth annual survey to gauge the extent of the state’s teacher shortage by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association was completed by 276 districts that serve nearly 78 percent of all public school students.
More than half of superintendents reported that teacher hiring is worse this year compared to last year.
OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime said the vacancies, combined with a still-increasing reliance on hires who have yet to complete the state’s requirements for traditional or alternative teaching certification, underscored how much work remains.
Hime has long advocated for the development of a state plan to at least reach the regional state average in public education funding.
“We have so much work left to do, but I think Oklahomans understand what’s at stake for our children,” Hime said. “I continually hear from education advocates and legislators who are committed to working together to keep investing in students and their schools.”
Hime said additional funding would enable more districts to restore teaching positions and academic and extracurricular programs cut over the past several years, plus reduce class sizes.
The survey found that as of Aug. 1, more than 100 school districts had added at least one teaching position since last school year, while nearly 40 districts are planning for fewer teacher positions this year.
The number of districts that said they would further increase class sizes to cope with the teacher shortage fell this year to 28 percent from 55 percent last year.
About 43 percent of districts anticipate hiring retired teachers, and about 35 percent expect to hire adjunct, or part-time, instructors to fill gaps.
As reported in Sunday’s Tulsa World, local school leaders say Oklahoma’s chronic teacher shortage shows no signs of easing even as new state-funded teacher raises take effect.
Teacher turnover appears to have slackened for some Tulsa-area school districts but ticked up at others, and the state of Oklahoma is on pace to eclipse last year’s record for emergency-certified teachers.
While officials say the raises have boosted morale, they are still warily eyeing the future, wondering if higher pay will encourage enough people to enter the teaching profession in time to replace “a storm” of retirements.
One of the greatest indicators of the statewide teacher shortage is school districts’ growing reliance on new hires who have not yet completed the state’s requirements for either a traditional or alternative certification.
In the first two months of the new fiscal year, the Oklahoma State Board of Education has already approved 1,237 emergency certifications, with many more expected. By comparison, 1,975 were approved in all of fiscal year 2018.