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Oklahoma teachers head to Texas

They are the ones who taught us how to count, how to read and inspired us to be creative. They are also the ones living on an average of $42,460 a year.

The teacher salary in Oklahoma has been one of the lowest in the nation since the late 1960’s. Teacher salaries have recently increased by $1,979 in Oklahoma, despite inflation, while other states have raised their salaries at a faster rate.

With lower salary rates, there have been a plethora of teachers leaving Oklahoma for states offering higher pay. Shawn Sheehan, 2016 teacher of the year, left for Texas. There, he and his wife, who is also a public-school teacher, make a combined $40,000 more each year.

Due to this exodus, Oklahoma has been left with a teacher shortage that has caused the number of issued emergency teaching certificates to skyrocket, rising 23 percent in three months. Emergency certificates are given to teachers who have not reached all the state requirements for a traditional or alternative certification. The certificate allows teachers who are not fully trained to teach a subject or grade. Amid the shortage, Tulsa Public Schools have hired at least 185 applicants with emergency certificates.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has expressed her concern for the 53,000 students who are on the receiving end of this shortage.

“The teacher shortage is not going to go away. It’s not going to fix itself,” said Hofmeister in an interview with NewsOK. “In fact, it is getting worse, and we have evidence of that. We’re looking at a tripling of what we’ve had in the past. I am  very concerned.”

Aside from annual salaries, Oklahoma teachers also qualify for employee benefits. Upon becoming an Oklahoma public school teacher, teachers are enrolled in the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System pension program. Members contribute seven percent of their annual salary until they qualify for retirement. OTRS then offers retirees a percentage of their salary depending on how many years they worked as an Oklahoma teacher. Other basic benefits include health insurance, dental and vision plans.

“It is still something unaddressed,” said Hofmeister in an interview with Tulsa World. “When we have a hole as big as $43 million cut even when there was an effort to keep funds flat, we realize how lucky we were in common education because other agencies took tremendous cuts.”