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Governor Stitt had teased a monumental announcement of an executive order aimed at addressing the teacher shortage crisis in the state. As schools closed daily due to staffing shortages, many were hoping for a robust solution. Instead, Stitt took to the podium to announce an initiative to increase the number of substitute teachers.
The executive order, which is in effect for only 120 days, allows employees at state agencies to work as substitutes in Oklahoma schools. The order also launches the “guest educator” initiative, which seeks to engage members of the business community as substitute teachers.
While Stitt and Education Secretary Ryan Walters hailed the effort as “innovative”, educators across Oklahoma were quick to voice frustrations.
Education leaders say effort will “do nothing” to help public schools in crisis
“I’m flabbergasted,” El Reno Superintendent Craig McVay told The Tulsa World.
McVay said help for struggling schools should have come “20 months ago”, but instead the governor “stuck his head in the sand.”
At the press conference, Stitt and Walters were joined by the state’s Chief Operating Officer and the CEO of the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce. No public school leaders or teachers were present. According to McVay, Stitt’s team tried to have public education professionals stand with them, “but no one came”.
Larry Case, the superintendent of Madell Public Schools, also spoke to the Tulsa World. In his interview, Case called the move “a political stunt” and questioned its helpfulness.
Bixby’s Superintendent, Rob Miller, also joined the chorus of voices expressing concern. Miller said, while he aligns with the intent of increasing community engagement, “this is not outside of the box thinking”.
Miller said the move “diminishes the value of educators and asserts they can be easily replaced”. He said the effort “does nothing to actually help school districts safely and effectively conduct in-person learning”.
All three superintendents were quick to note that the timeline for on-boarding new substitute teachers is lengthy. McVay noted that the background check process alone can sometimes take weeks or months. It’s unlikely schools will see any immediate relief as a result of the executive order or “guest educator” initiative.
Stitt’s substitute program fails to address longstanding issues facing schools
Much of the frustration surrounding the “guest educator” program stems from the governor’s inaction in supporting public schools over the last three years.
Oklahoma continues to rank among the ten lowest states for starting teacher pay in the nation. A first year teacher in Oklahoma with a Bachelor’s degree has a minimum starting salary of just $36,601. That salary maxes out at just over $50,000 after 25 years in the classroom.
According to EducationData.org, Oklahoma also ranks 48th in per-pupil spending and funding, falling far below the national average. The site notes that Oklahoma K-12 schools receive just $9,404 per pupil in funding and spend just $8,129 per pupil annually.
Combined, these and other issues have driven career teachers out of the state of Oklahoma over the course of the last decade. According to the Washington Post, there were more than 30,000 teacher resignations or retirements between 2013 and 2018 alone. And, according to a state report, nearly 17% of new teachers leave the state education system after just one year on the job.
State Superintendent of Education Joy Hofmeister, who is running against Stitt in the fall, called the governor’s solution “meager”.
“His solution is like bringing a cup of water to a raging fire (one he helped create),” Hofmeister tweeted on Tuesday.