Ray Carter | August 31, 2022

Oklahoma not an outlier on teacher shortage

Ray Carter

Reports of a teacher shortage in Oklahoma have often intimated the problem is one largely driven by Oklahoma-specific factors.

But the head of the state’s college system suggests that is not the case and that all states are seeing a reduction in the number of teachers.

“If you went back to about 2005 or so, you would see well over 700,000 college students in teacher-prep programs all across the United States,” said Allison D. Garrett, chancellor for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. “And now that number is closer to 500,000. And so nationally there’s been this huge decline in the number of college students studying to become teachers. And that’s been hugely problematic not just in the state of Oklahoma, but across all states.”

Garrett made those comments during a legislative study that focused on workforce challenges in Oklahoma, which touched on reports of a teacher shortage among other issues.

The data presented undermine many of the strategies pursued by lawmakers in recent years, which have included passing major tax increases and providing lavish increases in average teacher pay.

Despite the promises made when lawmakers voted to raise taxes in 2018, the tax increases have generated no notable improvement in Oklahoma’s public schools. Academic outcomes have actually declined since that time and reports of a teacher shortage have continued unabated.

During this year’s legislative session, Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, noted there were now around 3,800 emergency certified teachers in Oklahoma, a 165-percent increase since 2017, the last year before major pay raises were provided.

Yet reliance on emergency-certified teachers was supposed to decline after teacher pay was boosted in 2018, and reports have shown that Oklahoma’s teacher pay is now very competitive.

A report issued in December 2021 by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) compared teacher pay in Oklahoma to all other states, taking into account cost-of-living differences and tax burden to determine the real buying power of Oklahoma teachers. LOFT officials also accounted for the value of teacher benefits in each state, including retirement, state-funded health benefits, and Social Security benefits.

LOFT officials said Oklahoma’s 2019 teacher compensation levels, the most recent for which national comparisons were available, were “highly competitive both regionally and nationally.” After adjusting for tax burden and cost-of-living differences, Oklahoma’s average teacher salary ranked highest in the immediate seven-state region and 21st highest in the nation.

When LOFT released its teacher-pay report in December 2021, it found student enrollment in teacher-education programs at Oklahoma colleges declined 48 percent from the 2010-11 to 2019-2020 school years, and that there had been a 25-percent reduction in the number of students earning degrees in education during that time.

The data presented by Garrett to legislators, along with other sources, now indicates workforce challenges in education are national in scope, and not necessarily related to pay or Oklahoma-specific factors.

The LOFT report showed that the real buying-power average teacher salary in the state of Pennsylvania in 2019 was $63,671, ranking second highest in the nation.

Despite that high ranking for teacher pay, the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued a report in July that declared Pennsylvania “faces an educator workforce crisis.”

“While the overall numbers of new educators entering the profession continues to decline, the rate of educators leaving the profession continues to accelerate,” the Pennsylvania report stated. “As a result, schools are facing a harder time filling critical staff positions than ever before.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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