(The Center Square) – More money has not alleviated Oklahoma's teaching shortage so state Sen. Jessica Garvin said it's time to "look at what assets we already have available."
Garvin, R-Duncan, said she is introducing two bills, one that would allow adjunct teachers to teach more than 270 hours per semester and another that would give unlimited classroom days to substitute teachers who have a lapsed or expired teaching certificate or a bachelor's degree.
About 10% of teachers leave the profession annually, and the replacement rate is concerning, according to a report issued in December by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT). The number of students earning an education degree has dropped 25% since the 2010-2011 school year and 46% of the vacancies created by teacher retirements could be filled with graduates from the state's public institutions, according to the report.
Adjunct teachers are professionals such as accountants and journalists who do not have teaching certificates but can teach in the classroom if they are approved by local school boards.
Substitute teachers with lapsed teaching certificates or bachelor's degrees can only work 145 days a year, Garvin said. Substitute teachers without a degree can work up to 135 days a year.
“Given that many districts are still struggling to fill essential teaching positions, being able to rely on local professionals to share their expertise in the classroom as well as former teachers or individuals with degrees to substitute has been a lifesaver," Garvin said in a news release.
Lawmakers and state education officials addressed the teacher shortage in a meeting last month. They said the problem is not only how many teachers could be recruited, but how many would stay.
“So we can graduate more teachers, more nurses, but are they staying in Oklahoma after they finish from one of our excellent universities," Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said during the meeting.
Salaries are not the problem since Oklahoma teachers are paid more than teachers in surrounding states, according to the LOFT report.
A 2019 survey by the Oklahoma State Department of Education survey showed only 14.4% of teachers who left the profession would return for a higher starting pay.
Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, suggested shifting higher education funding formulas to address workforce shortages for teachers and nurses.
“Nobody’s dying because we didn’t graduate enough political science majors,” Echols said. “Oklahomans are dying because we don’t have enough nurses. No one is being uneducated because we don’t have political science majors.”
The bills would become effective immediately if passed by the Legislature, which convenes Feb. 7.