Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

    Oklahoma teachers stay for love of state

    Thousands of Oklahoma teachers and students gathered at the capitol building over the past two weeks to fight for better funding for the state.

    These groups marched on the Capitol in hopes to improve the education spending in the state of Oklahoma, one that would need to invest $1.3 billion more annually to reach the regional average per-student spending.

    Oklahoma schools have just under 700,000 students enrolled state-wide, and invests a little over $5 billion annually—averaging $8,075 per pupil. That figure is almost $2,000 less than the regional average of $9,744 per pupil.

    Statistics also show that Oklahoma schools have 536 vacancies as of Aug. 1, of this school year and 480 teaching positions have been eliminated since last school year. In addition, 17 percent of new teachers in Oklahoma leave after one year in the profession, while 10 percent of Oklahoma teachers with a decade of experience leave for a new state or profession.

    Teachers marching on the Capitol have said they stay for only one reason: their love for the state.

    “This is where I was born and raised, said Vickie Parrish, kindergarten teacher at Geronimo public schools. “I want to support my state because this is where my roots are.”

    With all the vacancies in the state, Oklahoma employed just shy of 2,000 emergency certified teachers, which was a jump of almost 800 such teachers from the previous school year. The open positions across the state that forces Oklahoma to employ so many emergency teachers also factored into why some teachers in Oklahoma want to stay.

    “I want our kids to be taught by highly qualified teachers,” said Sandi Zinn, high school science teacher at Anadarko High School. “Not a bunch of substitutes or emergency certified teachers. That’s truly what we need to be concerned about.”

    Sandi Zinn, teacher at Anadarko high school in Anadarko, Oklahoma, voices her opinion on the walkout and why she continues to teach in Oklahoma at the Oklahoma State Capitol on April 6, 2018.

    Teachers are not the only position in Oklahoma that have fallen well short of the regional and national average. Oklahoma’s per-student spending on school-level administrators lower than the regional and national average.

    As a state, Oklahoma ranks 44th nationally on per-student administration spending, and also features a student-to-administrator ratio that is 42nd in the nation, at 237 students for every one administrator. Oklahoma is over 300 administrators shy of the national average for administrators per student.

    Though House Bill 1010XX has given teachers in the state a pay raise, Oklahoma teachers ranked toward the bottom in the country in teacher pay before it was passed. The $45,000 average teacher pay – before the House Bill granted the pay raise – was $3,000 below the regional average, according to the National Education Association in May of 2017.

    The pay raise alone was not enough to keep teachers from the Capitol. They wanted to stand for what they believe is the right thing.

    “States like Texas, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas have started funding their schools, and they have seen a massive increase in the education their students are receiving and the quality of teachers they are getting,” said Casey Severns, seventh grade teacher at Darlington public schools in El Reno, Oklahoma. “We as a state are losing that.”

    With growth in enrollment throughout Oklahoma, the three areas the state has had the largest increase in staffing need has been free lunch participation, special education and English language learners. However, the amount of teachers leaving, the state has not produced enough teachers and employees in those areas to fit the need. More specifically, special education teachers have been the most difficult for the state to replace and keep up with the needs of the students.

    In Oklahoma, 76 percent of out-of-state students never teach in Oklahoma public schools, and the demand for teachers in the state will continue to outpace the supply, according to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

    Despite these statistics, there are those who do wish to stay in Oklahoma to teach to attempt to better the future of the children in the Oklahoma school districts.

    “I wouldn’t leave Oklahoma,” said Kama Wilson, elementary teacher at Angus Valley elementary in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. “I wouldn’t leave the kids that I have formed relationships with.”


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