House of Representatives

Chairman McBride suggests immediate teacher bonuses to address shortage


8/10/2022 1:30:00 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY – The House education budget chairman on Wednesday suggested Oklahoma immediately offer teachers relocation and retention bonuses funded by a portion of more than a billion dollars of federal pandemic relief funding available to the public education system.

House Appropriations & Budget Education Subcommittee Chairman Mark McBride, R-Moore, suggested the State Department of Education and local districts collaborate to offer $4,000 relocation bonuses for public school teachers who move to Oklahoma and $5,000 retention bonuses for existing teachers who stay here.

"Teacher shortages are one of the most pressing, immediate education challenges in Oklahoma and across the country," McBride said. "Bonuses are a powerful tool to attract and retain teachers amid this national teacher shortage. Money talks, and there is a lot of school money available in Oklahoma right now. Let's use it to fill this shortage and get our school children more teachers."

In the past two years, Oklahoma has received $2.3 billion in federal pandemic relief funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), of which 44.5% has been spent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. About $1.3 billion ESSER dollars remain unallocated at a time Oklahoma, like the rest of the country, is facing a teacher shortage, with districts statewide reporting several open teaching positions as the 2022-2023 school year begins.

ESSER money is controlled by the State Department of Education and local districts, not the Legislature. The agency and districts have announced several initiatives ESSER money will fund, many of which do not address the teacher shortage.

"As well-intentioned as those other initiatives may be, they won't matter much if the teacher shortage isn't aggressively reduced. Money in teachers' pockets will help the shortage immediately. I'm suggesting Oklahoma focus some of this enormous pile of federal education funds on the urgent need to address the teacher shortage. The pandemic contributed to the teacher shortage in Oklahoma and nationally, so these funds are appropriate for this purpose."

Some Oklahoma school districts are already using the funds as McBride suggests, including Edmond Public Schools, which offered a $1,000 bonus to new teachers or existing teachers returning for the 2022-2023 schools year.

"Some leadership and collaboration within the education system can help Oklahoma take an approach some districts are already using statewide," McBride said. "Relocation and retention bonuses are high-impact, aggressive moves that won't cost Oklahoma any state or local education dollars if Oklahoma uses the federal relief funds already at its disposal."

Other states already offering bonuses

McBride's 31-year-old daughter is a teacher who recently moved away from Oklahoma.                                                       

"My daughter just left Oklahoma for a $4,000 relocation bonus to teach in Las Vegas. She taught public school here, but Oklahoma lost her to Nevada because of money," McBride said. "Bright, young teachers like her will keep moving if schools don't get these bonuses in place soon."

The Clark County School District (CCSD) serving the Las Vegas area is offering $4,000 relocation bonuses to teachers from out of state or more than 100 miles away who agree to teach in the district for three years. The district is also offering $5,000 bonuses to existing teachers who stay for this school year. The bonuses are paid for with Nevada's federal ESSER funds.

Under CCSD's program, which also included a base salary raise, the district hired 883 new teachers before the start of its school year, making a large dent in its teacher shortage and getting the district above 90% staffed, with additional efforts continuing.

CCSD is the nation's fifth-largest school district, serving 320,000 students. Oklahoma has about 700,000 students in public schools statewide.

"The district my daughter will teach for in Las Vegas nearly filled its entire shortage once it announced these bonuses. Their plan worked. Oklahoma needs to offer this before we lose out to the other states already following suit," McBride said. "Since Oklahoma has already done recent, historic teacher pay raises, adding these bonuses at this critical time keeps us competitive."

Additional efforts

McBride and other legislators passed several bills last year and in recent years seeking to address the shortage, including:

  • House Bill 3564 creates scholarships for students pursuing teaching degrees in Oklahoma who agree to teach five years at an Oklahoma public school, rewarding up to $25,500 in incremental increases each year a student studies and works in an Oklahoma public school.
  • HB 4388 authorizes teacher pay raises between $3,000 and $10,000 for specially-certified teachers and one-time awards between $1,500 and $5,000 for teachers in economically disadvantaged or smaller schools by accessing funding from lottery proceeds of over $65 million.
  • HB 3658 improves and expedites the teacher certification process.
  • Pay increases of $6,100 in 2018 and $1,200 in 2019.

The bulk of those measures are long-term in nature. They are designed to create a strong teacher pipeline so quality educators flow into the education system over the next several years.

"Long term, Oklahoma has a good foundation in place. Short term, Oklahoma needs bold solutions like these bonuses," McBride said. "The Legislature has worked on this issue for years by raising teacher pay, passing bills, appropriating funds and launching several initiatives to combat the shortage. Oklahoma can remain committed to that sustained, strategic approach long term while also seizing this immediate opportunity."