Imagine this: a Marietta high school graduate, just 15 miles from Texas, studies hard, takes all the right courses, is involved in as many activities as possible in high school and her hard work pays off—she gets a scholarship to attend the University of Oklahoma and becomes the first in her family to graduate college. Her dream is to return to her hometown in southern Oklahoma and work for the same school district that put her on the path to live out her dream. Even though she was a scholarship student, she incurred some considerable student loan debt at OU and has a tough choice to make: Does she accept a position with her alma mater and earn $31,600 or make a 20 minute commute to Texas and make $50,000? She agonizes over the decision, but ultimately accepts a teaching position in Texas—just a short commute across the Red River from her hometown in Marietta.
This story plays out every single school year in Oklahoma, when hundreds of graduates from Oklahoma colleges leave their home state for higher pay in states that border us. In fact, a recent Dallas Morning News report details how starting teacher pay in a north Texas school district like Denton has reached $50,000. Meanwhile, minimum starting teacher pay in Oklahoma is $31,600 (the equivalent of a full-time job paying $15 per hour) and it hasn’t increased since the 2007-08 school year, which means Oklahoma’s already low pay isn’t even keeping pace with inflation.
The fact Denton, Texas can pay its teachers $50,000 a year but no southern Oklahoma school district has the resources to do so should be cause for alarm. And it’s not just north Texas districts. EVERY surrounding state offers higher wages for teachers and it’s causing a critical shortage of teachers in Oklahoma with more and more opting to pursue their careers across the state line.
A new teacher in Sallisaw can drive a mere 24 miles to Ft. Smith, Arkansas and earn $6,000 more right out of college. An additional $2,000 more in salary is paid to National Board certified teachers. And veteran teachers in Ft. Smith also fare MUCH better than their Oklahoma counterparts. A teacher with 20 years of experience with a doctorate in Ft. Smith earns $67,600, compared to $43,875 in Oklahoma, according to Oklahoma’s minimum teacher salary schedule.
It’s the same to the north of us. Teachers living in north Oklahoma border towns have a modest commute to Wichita and can earn $7,162 more out of the starting gate.
And while only 28 miles separate the towns of Miami and Joplin, several thousand dollars separates teachers’ starting pay.
Is there something so very different between Oklahoma and Arkansas or Kansas, or Missouri or Texas that policymakers here can’t come together to devise a way to close the gap between starting pay here and the states that surround us? What message does this send to Oklahoma teachers? It’s no wonder so many of them told us as we crossed the state doing a listening tour they feel undervalued and unappreciated.
If we don’t come together to take action, even more Oklahoma teachers will leave our classrooms and the students of this state will pay the ultimate price with an inferior education. Sign our petition and tell lawmakers that we must invest in our teachers: stand.org/TeacherMatterPledge
Standing with you,
Stand for Children Oklahoma