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With Oklahoma Poised to Become Last in Teacher Pay, a Teacher of the Year Leaves

As we reported earlier this year, unless Oklahoma lawmakers took action during this legislative session, the state would slip to last place for teacher pay. Lawmakers failed to agree on a plan to increase pay in time this year. And, on the eve of the legislature's adjournment, Shawn Sheehan, the state's 2016 teacher of the year, announced on his blog that he was leaving the state for a better-paying position in neighboring Texas.

"Teaching in Oklahoma is a dysfunctional relationship," he wrote in an impassioned post. "And with a myriad of emotions, I have made the decision to end this relationship."

Both Sheehan and his wife have accepted teaching positions in the Lone Star State. This is hardly a new issue in Oklahoma, in 2002. The New York Times reported on the exodus of Oklahoma educators into Texas. Even back then, teachers were seeing a $7,000 pay bump just by crossing the state line.

Sheehan said he tried everything he could think of to try to make it work in Oklahoma, including venturing into politics. In addition to running for office, he fought for State Question 779, a failed ballot initiative to institute a penny sales tax that would have funded an increase in teacher pay.

"I'm sorry it's come to this, but I will leave with my head held high," he wrote. "I poured my heart and soul into my teaching at Norman High School. I represented our state at the highest level. I tried to help find funding sources via SQ 779. I ran for state senate. I started a nonprofit focused on teacher recruitment and retention that has spread nationwide. I've done everything I know how to do to try and make things better. We could stay, but it would cost our family—specifically our sweet baby girl."

EdWeek's Daarel Burnette wrote about Sheehan last fall when he was running for the state senate to take a more active role in education policy. In this video, he talks about why he was considering leaving the classroom:

You can read Sheehan's full blog post here


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