MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

April 27, 2014

Teacher shortages vex schools across Oklahoma

TULSA — Teacher shortages are creating problems for school districts across Oklahoma.

Instead of shortages mainly in math, science and special education, schools are grappling with vacancies in all departments and grade levels, the Tulsa World reported (http://bit.ly/1hEgEdR ).

Recruiters say Oklahoma City Public Schools has 403 teaching vacancies that need to be filled before next school year, up from levels three years ago. Tulsa Public Schools is struggling to fill 84 positions, up from the typical 30 to 40 vacancies. Smaller districts are also struggling to recruit.

“All teachers are getting hard to find. ... We’ve had to broaden our pool of applicants,” said Ronald Martin, deputy superintendent of instruction for McAlester Public Schools, whose district of about 3,000 students is down four high school teachers, more than in each of the previous three years.

Educators say the growing scarcity of teachers reflects teacher salaries that are among the lowest in the nation, a situation that has been in place in Oklahoma public schools for decades.

Combined with other factors, the lower pay is creating an even greater obstacle for schools to attract and retain good teachers.

Ken Calhoun, who leads recruiting for Tulsa Public Schools, said increased competition in surrounding states is his biggest challenge. His main competitors, Texas and northwestern Arkansas, offer better salaries and more classroom resources.

“My gut tells me that the surrounding states have seen the need to put more money into education and teacher pay,” Calhoun said. “Oklahoma has not taken that step yet.”

Other causes include the high cost of a college degree, which can drive students to pursue higher-paying professions so they can pay off college loans; expanded opportunities for women beyond traditional fields such as teaching; and more intense demands in the classroom.

In the 2012-2013 school year, Oklahoma spent $7,912 per student on average on public schools, ranking it 49th in the nation and last in the seven-state region, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

That same year, Oklahoma’s average salary for teachers was $44,128, which ranked the state 49th nationally and lowest in the region. The ranking was lower than it was more than 40 years ago, in 1969-1970, when Oklahoma was 46th in teacher pay, according to the center. The state had the second-lowest pay in the region at the time, beating Arkansas.

When adjusted for inflation, teacher salaries in Oklahoma have risen by about $1,979 since 1969-1970, but remain lower than in 2009-2010. Surrounding states, such as Texas and Colorado, have increased teacher pay at a faster rate.

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