As the teacher shortage in Oklahoma becomes the new normal, school systems statewide are absorbing the impact.
According to last year’s Teacher Shortage Report by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, budget cuts led to the elimination of more than 1,530 teaching jobs across the state, but just over half of the state’s superintendent said the shortage had grown worse, not better, and they expected class sizes to increase and course offerings to decrease as a result.
The majority of the unfilled positions are in school districts in more heavily populated areas, but being in more rural areas poses its own problems.
Madill superintendent Jon Tuck, who has held that position for 10 years, said he’s seen a pattern emerge.
“What we typically get is good people near us,” Tuck said.  “We just don’t see the volume we used to see or the quality we used to get. When we get teachers, it’s because of geography.”
Tuck said in the ten years he’s served in his position, he’s seen the problem grow worse as teachers move en masse out of state for higher pay.
“In 2000, if we had an elementary teaching position open, we’d get 10 to 15 applications and maybe four or six of them would be really good,” Tuck said. “Now, we’re lucky to have one or two applicants.”
Madill’s population, much like other smaller cities in Marshall and Carter County is steadily increasing, and the need for teachers is outpacing the supply. The population increased from about 3,770 in 2010 to 3,905 in 2014.   
“We go to the Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the East Central University job fairs every year,” Tuck said. “Those kids, unless they’re from our area, will walk right past us and to the Texas schools.”
It’s a familiar story at this point: A steady stream of new teachers flowing out of Oklahoma to parts unknown, usually due south.
“These kids can do the math, but it’s just so sad because those are our kids,” Tuck said. “The same applicant can go across the river and make a whole lot more, plus there’s signing bonuses, and often they’ll pay moving expenses. That’s a big deal to someone that’s 22 or 23.”
Public education funding received a scant 1.6 percent increase from the state legislature this year, but years of deep cuts to education have left public schools struggling to uphold the burden. The same OSSBA report notes that 1,351 support positions were also cut. The system has been stretched thin, in every sense, and the results aren’t limited to the public schools.
Oak Hall Episcopal School headmaster Ken Willy said the problem is not isolated to the private sector. He said the school started the year without a Spanish teacher, because they couldn’t find a qualified candidate.  He said when public schools struggle to fill spots, private schools in the area do too.
“Just about all of them have come from public schools, so when there’s a shortage in the public sector, especially in a small town like Ardmore, it’s difficult,” Wily said.
Because Oak Hall is part of the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools, the kinds of credentials they accept are a little broader. For example, a candidate with a bachelor’s in elementary education who lacks state certification would still be considered for a teaching position. Despite this, the school contends with a lack of applicants every year.