Many of Oklahoma's schools will be closed Monday for an education rally at the State Capitol. Teachers will call for more education funding, less testing, and higher pay.
Pay isn't just a problem for teachers; it's a problem for the people trying to hire teachers. They're finding fewer applicants for every opening.
Tulsa Public Schools has a teacher in every classroom, but not as many teachers as they need. The district is chronically short on teachers, despite paying above the state standard for salaries. The people who do the hiring for TPS say salary is the biggest factor.
Ken Calhoun, with Tulsa Public Schools, said, "Significantly impacts applicant pool. This entire year, we've had about 37 openings in the district, with no applicant pool. That doesn't mean we're not getting applicants, but we're not getting enough so we can do good screening, good interviews, to recruit that best quality candidate that's out there."
Calhoun said even teachers they do recruit sometimes quickly go elsewhere for more pay.
The average salary for all teachers in Oklahoma is $44,100. That's well below the national average $56,400. It's also low compared to surrounding states. They all pay more, as much $4,000 a year more on average.
For many districts, it's the starting salary that's the biggest issue of recruiting. Oklahoma starts out teachers at about $33,200. Again, other states pay more, especially Texas, where there's no income tax.
"When we go to career fairs, especially at big universities, you can watch where graduates are going. They're going to the districts and states that pay more. We joke about Texas, but Texas takes a lot of students away from here because their starting pay is almost $10,000 more per year," Calhoun said.
The rally is Monday morning in Oklahoma City. Tulsa Public Schools and many surrounding districts are taking buses down to the capital loaded with teachers who are ready to talk to lawmakers.