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Bills to bolster Oklahoma teacher numbers advance in House

We see the backs of students' heads as they face the front of a classroom.  The students look middle-schoolish and have their backpacks hung from the backs of their chairs.
Kenny Eliason

Two bills aimed at retaining and recruiting Oklahoma teachers passed the first step of the legislative process on Monday.

Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) and Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) authored both bills, which would expand a scholarship for future Oklahoma teachers and provide bonuses to teachers with National Board Certifications.

With enrollment in Oklahoma teaching programs down 80% over the last two decades, the state is struggling to helm its classrooms with traditionally certified educators.

"Oklahoma students need the best teachers in their classrooms if they hope to succeed in subjects like reading, math, history, science and others," McBride said in a press release. "These are just a few of the ways we at the Legislature are working to recruit and retain teachers in our public school classrooms."

McBride and Baker, a former teacher, authored House Bill 2559 to amend the existing Inspired to Teach program, which provides up to $5,500 to education students who commit to teaching in Oklahoma after they graduate.

“We have over 2,000 people currently that have applied for the scholarship since July,” McBride told the subcommittee. “So it's pretty large. It's working.”

Right now, only graduates of Oklahoma high schools qualify for the scholarship. If HB2559 passes, it will extend eligibility to students who completed their K-12 education through other routes.

“Those who have completed a G.E.D. or who are homeschooled could also qualify now and would actually make terrific teachers,” Rep. Andy Fugate (D-Del City), a former public school teacher, said during the subcommittee meeting.

McBride and Rep. Mike Osburn (R-Edmond) also discussed amending the bill to include speech-language pathology and audiology students who will go on to work in Oklahoma schools.

McBride said he’s seeking $17 million to maintain funding for this program, but that money is not tied to this amendment.

McBride and Baker also authored House Bill 2558, which would give a $5,000 annual bonus for five years to teachers who receive their National Board Certification starting in July. This bonus will replace the National Board Certification salary tier structure, which gave teachers with the certification about $1,100 more per year than their colleagues without it.

"Through offering scholarships to prospective teachers and rewarding those who already have pursued rigorous programs such as National Board Certification, we are growing our teaching ranks and making sure those who pursue higher certification are rewarded for their dedication,” Baker, a former teacher, said in a press release. “These all factor into better student outcomes."

HB2558 and HB2559 passed the House Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee for Education on Monday and will move on to be considered by the full Appropriations and Budget Committee.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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