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It's Time to Invest in our Teachers: Part 2

School Funding, Teachers & Principals | 04/14/2016

Amber England
Oklahoma Executive Director

Amber England is the Executive Director of Stand for Children Oklahoma.

(Continuing with our series on why we are supporting State Question 779 this is part two. You can read part one here.)

 

Every single state bordering us pays their teachers more, and we rank 48th in the nation in teacher pay. The only things standing between us and dead last are Mississippi and South Dakota.

This is unacceptable. Why? Because we know teachers matter, and we aren’t investing in them. According to a study by the RAND Foundation, “among school-related factors, teachers matter most” when it comes to student success. The study goes on to say that “a teacher has two to three times the impact of any other school factor.” That’s huge.  

Why aren’t we paying them a salary commensurate with their worth?

If we really want to improve our student outcomes, we must invest in our teachers. Not just for their sake but for the future of our students.

While traveling across Oklahoma attending the #Sign4Children town halls, I’ve spoken with countless teachers. Many of them say they’re taking on second jobs just to make ends meet. This is shameful. Teachers are serious professionals who perform one of the most important tasks in our communities, yet they haven’t had a raise in nearly a decade. That raise is long past due.

Back in 2013, we launched our Teachers Matter Campaign to start a conversation about the growing teacher shortage and low teacher pay.

Then in 2014, we continued the conversation by hosting a Teachers Matter event with Oklahoma’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, New York Times bestselling author Amanda Ripley, and the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Public Schools superintendents.

Last year we decided to take the conversation directly to teachers for their feedback. We hosted eight focus groups across the state to identify barriers teachers face in the classroom and find solutions. The result was our Oklahoma Teachers Matter: Listening Tour Report.

In the report, Oklahoma public school teachers cited low morale, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of teacher representation in policy discussions as obstacles to their success. And yes, teacher pay came up in our conversations. But teachers said they chose to teach out of love and passion, not the promise of a large paycheck. As one teacher put it, “I got into education not for the incomes, but for the outcomes.” However, teachers overwhelmingly agreed that higher pay would improve morale and elevate the teaching profession.

Three years have passed since we launched our Teachers Matter campaign, and the problems identified in that time haven't gotten any better. Fewer people are choosing to teach -- and many who do are fleeing to bordering states for better pay. And now because of the recent $1.3 billion dollar shortfall, many teachers are being let go.

But this year we can make a difference -- a lasting one.

In November we’ll have a chance to give our teachers a $5,000 raise by supporting State Question 779. While this measure won’t make us number one in the nation in teacher pay, it will address the acute teacher shortage by bringing us up to the regional average while giving teachers a more livable wage. Funds from the ballot measure can’t be used for superintendent salaries, and since it’s a constitutional change the funds are protected and can’t be used for other purposes.

Often I hear Oklahomans talking about how they would like to do something about the dire situation our schools are facing. Well, here’s our chance..

This fall I hope you’ll join me in supporting SQ 779.

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