Empty desk

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

Public schools in Oklahoma are starting the new academic year with nearly 600 teaching vacancies, but many more districts are adding new positions, a new statewide survey has found.

The sixth annual survey to gauge the extent of the state’s teacher shortage by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association was completed by 305 districts that serve nearly 81% of all public school students.

The share of school district leaders who described the teacher hiring environment as worse than the prior year dropped to 38%, its lowest point since the Oklahoma State School Boards Association first asked the question in 2015 when 75% answered yes.

“The survey shows the historic investment in teacher pay is beginning to put a dent in the teacher shortage. The overall hiring of more teachers is an especially encouraging sign, but it’s also obvious the teacher pipeline is weak,” said OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime. “The teacher shortage crisis is not over.”

Respondents in 145 districts reported that they would be adding a total of 599 new teaching positions, while those in 57 districts reported plans to reduce staffing by eliminating 207 total teaching positions.

Nearly half of the all vacancies reported are in districts that added teaching positions for the 2019-20 academic year.

But the numbers of vacancies also don’t take into account one of the greatest indicators of Oklahoma’s ongoing statewide teacher shortage — school districts’ ever-growing reliance on new hires who have not yet completed the state’s requirements for either a traditional or alternative certification.

Oklahoma public schools hired 3,038 of these nonaccredited teachers through emergency certification from the state Board of Education to work in classrooms in 2018-19, representing a 54% increase over the previous school year’s 1,975.

By comparison, just 32 emergency teaching certificates were approved by the state in a single year in 2011-12.

Of the districts that participated in the latest OSSBA survey, 68% said they anticipate needing to seek emergency teaching certificates, a six-year high, while other stop-gap measures will be employed, as well, including hiring retired teachers and part-time adjunct instructors.

Lawmakers approved $133.6 million in new state money for education this year, including the $1,220 across-the-board teacher raise that was a priority of state leaders.

“Schools are lowering class sizes, expanding student support services, and investing in the classroom. All of these improvements will benefit students and are evidence we’re moving in the right direction,” Hime said.

But even with the additional state funding, Hime said Oklahoma remains last in the region when it comes to per-student spending.

“State leaders deserve thanks for directing more support to schools, but I think they also understand we aren’t at the finish line when it comes to ensuring all teachers and all students have the resources and support they need to excel,” he said.

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Andrea Eger 

918-581-8470

andrea.eger@tulsaworld.com

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

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