Oklahoma is suffering from a severe teacher shortage in public school classrooms across the state. One measure of the severity of the shortage is the Oklahoma School Board’s recent approval of 574 more emergency certificates for educators this year at its monthly meeting on August 23, 2017. With these approvals, the total number of emergency certificates has reached 1,429, with the school year barely beginning. Last school year, a total of 1,160 emergency certificates were approved by the State Board. The same week that the School Board met, districts reported 536 classroom vacancies across the state.
The school funding crisis in Oklahoma schools often attracts national news, usually painting the state in a negative light.
Some critics point to teacher pay as part of the difficulty in attracting and keeping educators, suggesting the state’s general lack of support for public education, and severe cuts to public education, are to blame. Others remind lawmakers of the tax cuts that have been enacted, even in a time of lower-than-expected revenue.
Still others cite national statistics suggesting the teacher shortage is a national problem, not a specific Oklahoma problem. The boom-and-bust nature of the state’s dependence on the oil industry creates a new wrinkle in the state’s attempts to fund schools and other public services equitably.
Dr. Deborah Gist, Superintendent of Tulsa Schools, has stepped up and volunteered to return to the classroom as her district was working to staff one third grade class. She said this was not the first time a Tulsa Schools administrator had done a short stint in the classroom.
She reflected on this experience, just three days in a classroom: ““I’m feeling more passionate, concerned, maybe even some anger, about what we’re doing right now to our teachers for sure, but ultimately, it’s about what we’re doing to our kids and therefore what we’re doing to our community by not addressing the situation.”
She sees teacher pay as one concern in the shortage issue, and will continue to advocate for more funding to public schools. The state will probably see more emergency certificates approved by the State Board at their September meeting.