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Unable to Solve Teacher Pay Issue, Oklahoma Will Promote Recruitment, Retention

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There's a problem in Oklahoma. As we've reported, the state is losing many teachers, including their 2016 teacher of the year, to better paying nearby states like Texas.

Last fall, advocates for teacher pay increases fall short at the ballot box during a referendum on a penny sales tax that would go in part to funding teacher salary bumps. It was then up to Oklahoma legislators to find a way to fund pay increases or risk becoming the worst state for teacher pay. But they were unable to agree on how to fund teacher pay increases during this year's legislative session.

So, in what appears to be a kind of stopgap measure, the state has passed legislation creating a new "teacher recruitment revolving fund," which will help the state's education department and higher education system to create programs to identify and recruit potential teachers. Among other things, the groups should  draw up handouts that outline what programs exist to help teachers, namely state-funded loan forgiveness and tuition assistance, and underscore just important teachers are to the state.

"While we appreciate the intent of Senate Bill 15, it is not enough to develop teacher recruitment programs without also addressing the need for a long-term funding solution for public schools that includes a significant teacher pay raise," said Pam Deering, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. "It is difficult to promote education as a desirable career path when teacher pay is well below the regional average and Oklahoma is making headlines for leading the nation in cuts in education funding. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the state formula funding per student has decreased 27 percent since 2008. Until our state legislators get serious about increasing teacher pay and per pupil funding we will continue to lose teachers to other states and different professions."

The new teacher recruitment fund will start off by getting money from a $35 specialty education license plate; $20 of that will be put into the fund.  

It's fair to ask whether this is going to raise enough cash to do much of anything other than produce a few handouts. The state already has a "Support Education" license plate. Last year, 128 of those were sold for a total profit of $4,428, reports the Enid News & Eagle. That's only a tenth of Oklahoma's current starting pay.

The state's teacher union president isn't impressed.

"This is just a gimmick," Alicia Priest, president of Oklahoma Education Association, the state chapter of the National Education Association, told the Enid News & Eagle.

"Some of our legislators could use their time more wisely coming up with dedicated revenue streams for education and supporting educators as professionals ... so we can actually recruit teachers and support professionals and pay them good wages and benefits," she said. 

Stephanie Bice, a Republican from Oklahoma City and the bill's author, acknowledges the new law is only "piece of the puzzle" to solving the state's teacher shortages. "We recognize that teacher pay is an issue, but it's hard to address given the financial situation that we're in," she said.


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