I represent public school teachers

Two political races in Oklahoma are getting a lot of attention, and education is central to both. Current Public Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has switched sides to run against Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. Governor-appointed Education Secretary Ryan Walters is running for Superintendent of Public Schools against another state educator and teacher of the year, Jena Nelson.

Schools across the state are struggling to find teachers to fill classroom vacancies. During the 2011-2012 school year, a total of 32 emergency education certificates were issued. The 2021-2022 school year ended with over 3,600 emergency education certificates, and the current 2022-2023 school year is on course to break that record with over 2,500 certificates issued before most schools only opened for a month. While many may speculate and conjecture as to what caused the shortage, a recurring theme continues to be at the center of discussion: low teacher pay.

In a 2018 survey by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the top reason former teachers who were still credentialed but not teaching left the profession was pay, and 31% of respondents indicated that they would return to the profession if compensation was increased. . Again, most agree that multiple factors have contributed to teacher shortages, including political discourse, legislative and regulatory mandates, and lack of respect from parents and society at large; however, compensation is an important factor that encourages young adults to enter the profession and stay in it for the long term.

On September 22, the State Board of Education approved State Superintendent Hofmeister’s proposed budget for FY23, which included a $5,000 salary increase for teachers. The proposed budget would cost $310 million to cover increases to the state’s roughly 53,000 teachers in hopes of improving Oklahoma’s position on regional teacher compensation. According to the National Education Association, Rankings and Estimates in April, Oklahoma’s teacher compensation ranks fourth in the region, although the region’s fifth-largest state, New Mexico, recently signed legislation to increase teachers’ salaries by $10,000.

In my district, which I believe is representative of others in our state and across the country, my teachers work hard, genuinely care about our students, and accept accountability for what they do every day. Unfortunately, the political rhetoric in our state, in fact across the country, vilifies all teachers as evildoers who conduct a kind of sadistic “woke indoctrination” of our children. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I will stand up for our teachers, administrators, and support staff all day, every day. They deserve to be treated better than that.

Secretary Walters not only continued to repeat his fearmongering mantra, but also began spreading a lie about administrative costs in Oklahoma schools. During a televised debate on October 25, he said that more dollars should be invested in the classroom as opposed to the current 51% administrative costs we are currently experiencing. He is either horribly misinformed, twisting some data completely out of context, or just plain lying. Schools in Oklahoma are required by law to have very low administrative costs, which in my district are less than 5%. Maybe he misplaced a decimal.

Education professionals deserve to be treated with respect and held in high esteem for the work they do every day, despite unreasonable demands from parents and outlandish political rhetoric in the media. I support leaders who champion initiatives to increase teacher compensation in our state to recognize teachers for the dedicated professionals that they are.

Kyle Reynolds, a doctoral candidate at Southern Nazarene University, is a 28-year-old educator and superintendent of his alma mater, Woodward Public Schools.

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