A News On 6 poll shows more than two-thirds of Oklahoma voters support the idea of a one-cent sales tax for education. Meanwhile, nearly 34 percent say the state needs to find other ways to address the teacher shortage and low teacher pay.
This year, with pay raises for teachers in South Dakota, Oklahoma will fall to second to last in the nation in average teacher pay. It is an issue that has led to a severe teacher shortage in the state.
Jane Via is currently a teacher in Edmond. Her daughter-in-law is a first year teacher in Plano, Texas.
“She just started teaching this year in Plano and she's actually making more than I am,” said Via. In fact, her daughter-in-law is bringing home about $11 thousand more than Via.
“It is unfortunate because we're better in Oklahoma than that,” said Alecia Priest, a former teacher and current president of the Oklahoma Education Association.
Priest said the last time legislators gave teachers in Oklahoma a pay increase was the 2008-2009 school year.
“2008 to 2009, our beginning salary for an entry teacher was $31,600 and 2016 the beginning salary for at teacher is going to be $31,600,” said Priest.
Lawmakers blamed low oil prices and OPEC for the painful budget cuts in education spending. However, Priest pointed to oil producing state North Dakota. Legislators there socked away more than $614 million for schools when times were good.
During the eight years since Oklahoma teachers received a raise, oil production in the state doubled and prices exceeded $100 per barrel, before tumbling this year.
“We haven't made education a priority in funding. We just haven't. We've given corporate tax breaks we've given oil and gas breaks we had an opportunity to look at those things and make changes. It didn't happen,” said Priest.
Many teachers say they cannot afford to continue their careers in the classroom.
“Teacher pay in Oklahoma is not very good. I was working three jobs at some time throughout the year,” said Amy Tietsort, a teacher at Tulsa’s Union Public Schools.
Tietsort said when one of those part time jobs offered her a full time position, she made the difficult decision to leave a teaching career she loved.
“I was in the third grade when I decided that was my calling. I had an amazing third grade teacher and from there on out that's what my passion was,” said Tietsort.
Amy is like the legions of other teachers who are leaving the profession or the state in search of higher paying jobs. Last year, the state issued 1,000 emergency teacher certifications, allowing college graduates to teach without a teacher certification.
But Amy said she would consider going back to teaching if things changed.
A report out this month contends "real" teacher pay in Oklahoma is higher than people think. The limited government group, "1889 Institute," claims when pay is adjusted for cost-of-living, Oklahoma jumps from 48th in the nation to 30th. Oklahoma has the 49th lowest cost of living. Another analysis shows a new teacher starting in Dallas will make less than starting in Oklahoma because of the cost-of-living difference.
It says failing to point that out is actually driving more teachers out of state.
The limited government group 1889 Institute says when pay is adjusted for cost-of-living, Oklahoma jumps to 30th in the nation. That's because Oklahoma has the 49th lowest cost of living among the states. You have to move to Mississippi to live cheaper.
Another analysis shows a new teacher starting in Dallas will make less than starting in Oklahoma because of the cost-of-living difference.
It says failing to point that out is actually driving more teachers out of the state.