BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The opening dialogue from Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a foreshadow of literary tragedy. Defined as “noisy confusion and tumult,” Hurley Burley aptly describes the dire situation facing Oklahoma’s public schools brought on by those calling the shots at the state Capitol.
This weekend’s Dallas Morning News detailed that in 2013 Oklahoma’s average teacher pay was $6,000 less than Texas’ average pay. The article made it clear that geographically, it is a no-brainer for an Oklahoma teacher to earn thousands of dollars more by simply driving 20 minutes across the Red River.
The Dallas paper made an even better case for teachers to drive a few miles further or relocate to areas like McKinney where the additional pay will net $10,000 more per year or Frisco where first-year teachers with master’s degrees are making $15,000 to $18,000 more per year than in Oklahoma.
Sandi Jacobs, vice-president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, also related that qualified teachers are looking at ending salaries as well. “The idea that someone would end their career making $15,000 more than they started seems very unprofessional. It isn’t what you’d expect in a profession.”
Many Oklahoma teachers, frustrated with the lack of pay increases and the lowest salaries in the region, have started making the drive across a border, exporting our teacher talent while importing a different type of teacher.
So, while Oklahoma teachers are being recruited to teach kids in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas, the Legislature responds by enabling residents of those states to obtain “emergency teaching certificates” and teach our “treasured” students.
Why would a qualified Arkansas teacher come to the Sooner State when they could stay home and draw a better salary there? Hint: They may not be qualified teachers.
For instance, Tony O’Brien, superintendent of Newcastle Public Schools, said, “It’s just brutal right now trying to get people certified. They may have a degree in underwater basket-weaving, and I’m trying to get them a certificate in elementary education.”
Emergency Teaching Certificates issued by the state of Oklahoma are putting Oklahoma kids on the short end of a destructive export-import process.
OKC’s News9 reported a few days ago that Oklahoma’s schools had 1,600 vacant teacher positions, of which 600 were eliminated by increasing class sizes. The State Department of Education is currently considering 664 applications for “emergency teaching certificates” for the remaining 1,000 vacant positions.
Shawn Heim, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association’s executive director said, “That’s over 2,200 positions that aren’t being filled by highly qualified teachers, the kind of teachers that I want in my child’s classroom.”
Monday’s lead editorial in the Daily Oklahoman said that “Lowering the volume may help in teacher pay debate.” That advice ranks right up there with “sticking our head in the ground.”
This is neither a Republican problem nor a Democratic problem. It is an Oklahoma problem that the Legislature and the governor have failed to solve. It up to the voters. Otherwise, Act 4, Scene 1 will be “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble.”
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, serves District 56 in the House of Representatives