Oklahoma lawmakers said efforts to improve education are on hold because of financial strains from COVID-19.
"I wanted some kind of incentive to stay in Oklahoma, and it still wasn’t enough to get it done," Clark Ellis said.
State lawmakers tell News On 6 they were pushing to pass a number of bills this week to better education.
However, with the economy at a standstill, lawmakers and teachers said they're worried education reform is at a standstill as well.
Ellis was one of the thousands of teachers who stood up for public education during the 2018 teacher walkout. Ellis said he and his wife were both Oklahoma teachers for over five years. Due to poor work conditions and low income, they moved to Texas and got a 60 percent pay raise.
"I feel upset with myself for leaving Oklahoma, but I’m also upset with Oklahoma for pushing me out. It’s a lot to process," Ellis said.
State Representative John Waldron has been fighting to improve the state's teacher shortage. He proposed a bill last week, which offered a four-thousand-dollar stipend for new teachers graduating from Oklahoma teaching colleges. That bill was rejected along with a bill giving incentives for out-of-state teachers to come to Oklahoma.
"We would have recognized their years of out-of-state experience better when they came to Oklahoma. Sadly, both were casualties in the process," Waldron said.
Waldron said it will take years to get the funds needed for his proposal due to the pandemic decreasing the state's budget. He said in the meantime, the state can still make improvements with the workload put on teachers.
"Trusting our teachers more, giving them more autonomy in the classroom, does not cost additional dollars," Waldron said.
Ellis said he and his wife would consider returning to Oklahoma if teaching conditions improve.
"We did love Oklahoma. It's where we’re from and it's where our roots are. Right now, it’s not the feasible option," Ellis said.
The legislature did approve a bill to make it easier to certify special education teachers. It is now heading to the governor for approval.