A teacher-recruitment tool for school administrators

April 12, 2017

Steve Anderson

We have all heard the assertion from K-12 public school representatives that there is a teacher shortage and that teachers are leaving for jobs in other states. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that some Oklahoma researchers believe there may be a teacher surplus.) Whatever the case, aside from higher taxes and more government spending, what solutions are being proposed? In the private sector we understand how to deal with tight funding situations. So here’s a proposal.

In 2016 the citizens of Oklahoma contributed 9.5 percent of teacher salaries—roughly $410 million—to the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS). (This is in addition to the $294 million that teachers themselves contributed to OTRS.) Moreover, Oklahomans sent another $290 million from their sales, income, and uses taxes directly to OTRS. This is money that otherwise could have gone to the General Revenue Fund to be available for things like teacher pay raises, infrastructure needs, or other state agency needs. In all, we’re talking about roughly a billion dollars a year devoted to teacher retirement. (For an interesting analysis of Oklahoma teacher pay and benefits compared to other states, see this new report.)

But even with all this money devoted to teacher retirement, a school administrator wishing to recruit out-of-state teachers or hire alternatively certified teachers in high-need areas (such as mathematics or physics, for example) finds that his hands are tied when it comes to being able to offer an attractive benefits package. How so? OTRS requires an employee to work for five years before he or she is qualified to receive any retirement benefits. And the benefit structure is such that it requires significantly longer service before those retirement benefits amount to anything of substance.

This is not a benefit structure that will help school administrators recruit experienced teachers from out of state who may not have the 20 years left in their working lives to earn a decent retirement from OTRS. It appeals even less to alternatively certified individuals who have finished their careers in the private sector and are looking to bring their real-world experience into the classroom. It’s time to give the school systems some freedom from this archaic system by allowing flexibility in what they can offer teachers.

Legislators should remove these handcuffs and help put experienced or alternatively certified teachers in the classroom by allowing school districts to declare “critical need” areas of hiring. Once declared, allow district or school leaders the following flexibility when hiring for positions in these areas.

This is the kind of reform that simply offers local school leaders more choices as they hire teachers and allocate education tax dollars.