Despite pay raises, officials warn of teacher shortage

January 15, 2021

Ray Carter

State officials continue to inform lawmakers that large tax increases and teacher pay raises enacted in 2018 appear to have had relatively little impact on teacher shortages.

During a budget hearing conducted by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on Thursday, Glen D. Johnson, chancellor of the State Regents for Higher Education, informed lawmakers that the production of new teachers in Oklahoma remains a challenge, saying the data “is troubling.”

“You’ve got over 40 percent of those that majored in teacher education that are either out of the profession or in another state within the first five years,” Johnson said, “and those majoring in education has declined by 27 percent over the last six-to-seven years. Obviously, those (facts) create cause for concern.”

Johnson’s comments came only days after officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Education informed lawmakers that a mass exodus of teachers is likely over the next two years.

Lawmakers approved an average teacher pay raise of $6,100 in 2018 and added another $1,200 in 2019. Because a teacher’s retirement benefit is based on the last three years of income, the pay raises are believed to have incentivized otherwise retirement-eligible teachers to stay in the profession a few years longer.

But state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister told lawmakers many of those teachers may now be poised to leave the profession.

Hofmeister told members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education that there are 4,503 teachers in Oklahoma who are retirement-eligible, based on what she called a “conservative” estimate.

“That means more than 10 percent of our teaching core could retire within the next two years,” Hofmeister said.

The number of teachers who may choose retirement exceeds the 1,554 teaching positions added between the 2017-2018 school year, the last year prior to the teacher pay raises, and the 2020-2021 school year.

In addition, the state continues to rely on emergency-certified teachers for many new hires. During the first six months of the current state budget year, 1,966 educators requested approval of emergency teaching certificates.