The House education budget chairman is calling for federal funds allocated to Oklahoma for pandemic relief in public education to be used immediately on teacher relocation and retention bonuses.
“Teacher shortages are one of the most pressing, immediate education challenges in Oklahoma and across the country,” House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee Chairman Mark McBride, R-Moore, said in a Wednesday afternoon press release. “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.”
McBride said he wants the Oklahoma State Department of Education and local districts to “collaborate” to use remaining federal dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund to offer $4,000 relocation bonuses to attract teachers from out of state and $5,000 bonuses for current public school teachers who remain here.
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When contacted by the Tulsa World for a response, SDE spokesman Rob Crissinger said only 10% of federal education relief funds was available for state-level programs and the deadline for obligating those dollars was in March. But, he said SDE did use some of those dollars to try to address teacher shortages, including for paid student teacher internships, first-year teacher training and other teacher resources and supports.
Crissinger also noted that school districts, which received 90% of the federal funds, were required to submit their spending plans more than a year ago and many districts have already been using the money for teacher bonuses and stipends. The federal funds are drawn down monthly as staff are paid — and districts have until September 2024 to use all of their allocated relief funding.
The Legislature has no authority over the use of ESSER funding, but McBride pointed to Edmond Public Schools as an example of a district already attempting what he suggests be done statewide, as that district reportedly offered a $1,000 bonus to new or existing teachers for the 2022-23 academic year.