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Last year’s teacher pay increase has not slowed layoffs

By Jennifer Palmer, Oklahoma Watch

Teacher turnover hit its highest point since the pandemic last school year, when more than 6,000 Oklahoma public school teachers left the classroom.

The dropout rate occurred as the state implemented the largest teacher pay increase since 2018: $3,000 to $6,000 per teacher, depending on experience.

“There’s no doubt about it: Overall, this remains a serious crisis,” said Chris Tobler, human resources director for Mustang Public Schools, the state’s 11th-largest district.

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According to an analysis of certified teacher data from the Oklahoma Department of Education:

• 6,065 classroom teachers who were employed in 2022-2023 have not returned this year. That is almost 14% of the total teacher workforce.

• Nearly 1,000 of those who left were in their first year as teachers. Nearly half had five or fewer years of experience.

• The number and percentage of teachers leaving has increased every year since 2019-2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began.

Oklahoma’s teacher shortage dates back more than a decade. The number of teachers leaving the profession has increased, while enrollment at Oklahoma colleges has declined 86% from 2008 to 2021, the most of any state. analysis by Penn State found it.

Once a stopgap measure, it is now routine to staff classrooms with emergency-certified teachers, who have bachelor’s degrees but no formal training in teaching.

COVID-19 has turned education upside down and continues to negatively impact students’ academic performance, emotional well-being and behavior. That makes it harder to teach. In a recent survey, 77% of teachers said their job is often stressful and 68% said it is overwhelming; just over half, 53%, describe their work as enjoyable, said survey data from the Pew Research Center, a source of data and analysis.

According to the survey, the most common reason for dissatisfaction is salary. Only 15% of teachers say they are very or very satisfied with their salary.

Minimum wage increases for Oklahoma teachers went into effect this school year, raising the average salary for a classroom teacher more than $61,000.

That helps with retention and recruitment, say HR managers at several Oklahoma school districts.

Human resources directors at both Mustang and Edmond Public Schools said the number of layoffs they are seeing at this point in the school year is lower than normal.

But the candidate pool to fill these positions is still very shallow.

“It’s a struggle,” said Randy Decker, executive director of human resources for Edmond Public Schools.

The Legislature has made some big improvements in teacher salaries, he said, but the economy has eaten away at many of the gains. Salaries must be an ongoing, long-term focus, he said.

Bartlesville Public Schools, 45 miles north of Tulsa, had 69 teaching positions to fill over the past two years, up from about 50 to 60 in the years before the pandemic, said Granger Meador, the district’s executive director of technology and communications.

“We are grateful that the Legislature has invested in increasing teacher salaries in recent years,” he said. “Otherwise we would be back to pre-2018 levels, with many teachers leaving for higher paying positions in Kansas, Texas, etc.”

Yet there are other challenges. There’s the state’s overall per-student spending, which is lower than most states. This means that teachers have fewer resources, such as small classes, guidance and other forms of support.

And one in five children in Oklahoma live in poverty, above the national average. Poverty has a negative effect on students’ ability to learn and can hinder brain growth and functioning. studies have found.

In addition to better salaries, improving teacher working conditions will help solve the teacher shortage, according to the National Education Association.

Some of the legislature’s initiatives, such as maternity leave and the additional school funding approved for this school year, could help.

Tobler, in Mustang, said they work extra hard to make teachers feel supported.

“The emotional, mental and physical well-being and support of our teachers is the number one priority in Mustang Public Schools right now, after students, who are always our top priority,” he said.

One initiative that is having a positive impact on the teacher pipeline is the Inspire to Teach program, which was passed by the Legislature in 2022, said Goldie Thompson, vice chancellor for teacher preparation and special programs at the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education .

Currently, 4,500 students participate in Inspired to Teach, which provides teacher training students with $1,000 to $2,500 per year and then a $4,000 per year stipend for their first five years of teaching in an Oklahoma public school.

Colleges have seen a 10% growth in the number of students in teacher preparation programs, Thompson said, and fewer students are leaving the programs before they are completed. These types of incentive programs, coupled with salary improvements and additional support for teachers, are what is needed to end the shortage. But that takes time, she said.

“Anytime you’ve had a decline that started years ago, it’s not going to be a silver bullet to reverse that trend overnight,” Thompson said.

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter at Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.