BY MIKE W. RAY
According to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, Oklahoma’s 500-plus school districts start the 2017-18 school year with 536 teaching vacancies, despite the addition of 1,430 emergency-certified teachers and the elimination of 480 teaching positions since last year.
Approximately 100 school districts have scaled back to four-day school weeks.
Enrollment in Oklahoma public schools climbed to 693,710 last year, the 2016-17 school year. That was an increase of 20,500 students in five years, records maintained by the State Department of Education show.
But while enrollment was increasing, the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System reported in 2015 that an average of 3,000 teachers had retired in each of the preceding five years – i.e., 15,000 of them – and 1,100 of those took early retirement.
In addition, Oklahoma suffers from a high teacher attrition rate: 17% of new teachers exit Oklahoma public schools each year, compared to 11% in Texas. Many Oklahoma teachers move to Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and elsewhere for higher wages and benefits.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education issued 1,082 emergency teaching certificates last year through the end of December. In comparison, 32 emergency certificates were issued statewide in the 2011-12 school year.
The OSSBA says districts struggle to find qualified teachers among a shrinking – and sometimes non-existent – applicant pool. Class sizes and teacher-student ratios climb higher, while course offerings for students decline. https://www.ossba.org/advocacy/oklahoma-education-facts/
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2016, expenditures per student in Oklahoma averaged $7,995, which was $1,500 per student less than the regional average [which, besides Oklahoma, included Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado and New Mexico].
Nevertheless, the right-wing Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs insists that the state of Oklahoma has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
– Mike W. Ray, a veteran Oklahoma journalist, lives in Oklahoma City. He recently retired after four years as media director for state House Democrats.
Note: Join Observer Editor Arnold Hamilton tonight [Aug. 24] at 6 p.m. at Oklahoma City’s Full Circle Books for a lively, one-hour discussion on the state of public education in Oklahoma with former teacher/state Rep. Mickey Dollens and Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest.