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Low Pay, Charity, and Emergency Certificates for Oklahoma Teachers

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Oklahoma teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. They haven't had a raise in more than 10 years.

Now charities are stepping in to rescue teachers who are struggling to make ends meet, according to the Associated Press. Habitat for Humanity has built homes for two Tulsa teachers, and has received applications from about a dozen more.

English teacher Tiona Bowman, who makes $34,000 a year, was one of the recipients of a no-interest loan on a Habitat for Humanity home. She told the Associated Press she was grateful, but surprised that she qualified. "I went to school for all these years, I have these degrees, and I qualify for a program like this?"

The George Kaiser Family Foundation, a charity based in Tulsa, also helps teachers secure housing that won't strain their wallets. Kaiser offers low-interest home loans for teachers and has transformed old downtown buildings into affordable apartments for Teach for America recruits.

Some places are finding small ways to make life a little easier for teachers. Enid, a small town in northwest Oklahoma, has secured discounts for teachers from local businesses including supermarkets, office supply stores, restaurants, and hair salons.

There's also a big push for donations of school supplies across the state, with some teachers taking matters into their own hands. My colleague Madeline Will recently reported in the Teaching Now blog on an Oklahoma teacher who resorted to panhandling to raise money for school supplies. That teacher has since raised $27,881 on GoFundMe.  Now she  plans to set up a foundation to get supplies into the hands of teachers in Tulsa and eventually across the state.

But can a little charity keep teachers in the Sooner State? Many are fleeing to neighboring states for jobs where they can command more money. Oklahoma's 2016 Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan, together with his wife who is also a teacher, got a $40,000 pay bump by moving to a Dallas suburb just 2 ½ hours away, reports the Associated Press.

The mass exodus of teachers has forced Oklahoma to issue emergency teaching certificates. The Oklahoma board of education has handed out 1,429 emergency teaching certificates, the most in state history, according to Stillwater News Press. Five years ago, only 32 emergency teaching certificates were approved.

There doesn't seem to be much relief in sight for teachers, save for charity. As Daarel Burnette II reports in Education Week, the collapse of the state's oil industry has created a billion-dollar budget deficit and the state's legislators in recent years have made sharp cuts to K-12 spending, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, cuts to extracurricular programs and, in some cases, a four-day school week.

Photo: FOX 23 Sara Whaley/Facebook


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