(The Center Square) – An Oklahoma senator is proposing an incremental pay raise for the state’s teachers in hopes of alleviating what some call the state’s most severe teacher shortage in years.
Oklahoma began the 2022-2023 school year with more than 1,000 teacher vacancies, according to the Oklahoma State School Board Association’s annual survey.
It’s a situation that Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, a retired educator, thinks will worsen. He filed a bill to give teachers a $2,000 annual raise for the 2023-2024, 2026-2027 and 2029-2030 school years.
“We had 3,338 emergency certifications last year,” Pemberton told The Center Square. “We’re running about the same number this year. We can’t find teachers, especially in the math and science areas.”
Recruiting teachers is difficult when surrounding states pay more, according to Pemberton. The starting salary for an Oklahoma teacher is $38,074 a year, and the average salary is $54,762, according to the National Education Association. New teachers in Texas start out at $44,527, and the average salary is $57,641 a year. New Kansas teachers make slightly more than their Oklahoma counterparts at $39,100. But the average salary is $53,619.
Money is not an issue for Oklahoma, Pemberton said.
“Some of the budget is based on the barrel of oil price and I think our budget last year was written on $34 a barrel oil, which oil is still up around $50 a barrel. Even though it’s dropped it’s still way above what we figured the budget on,” Pemberton said. “I think we’re in a good enough financial situation that we can step out and do a little bit of something for our teachers.”
The state ended fiscal year 2022 with a $2.8 billion surplus, according to Gov. Kevin Stitt. Alicia Andrews, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, told The Center Square in August that money could be used for teacher salaries.
Pemberton’s bill is not the only proposal lawmakers will have before them when they return to Oklahoma City on Feb. 6. The State Board of Education agreed in September to ask lawmakers for a $5,000 raise for state teachers. The raises would cost the state $310 billion and are supported by the Oklahoma Education Association.
“Oklahoma teachers currently earn 32% less than other professionals with commensurate degrees and have been stretched thin during an extended staffing shortage,” OEA President Katherine Bishop said in a statement.
Another bill addressing teacher pay is also on the table. Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, wants to establish a task force to determine how to award teacher raises based on merit or performance. The task force would report its findings on Nov. 30, 2024 if the bill passes. Bullard did not respond to a request from The Center Square seeking comment.