OKLAHOMA CITY – Two education bills addressing the critical teacher shortage and worsening mental health of Oklahoma students made their way through the Senate Thursday. Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair and Education Committee Vice Chair Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, carried the bills in the Senate.
HB 3564 would create the Oklahoma Future Teacher Scholarship and Employment Incentive Program to provide scholarships to incentivize Oklahoma high school graduates to pursue teaching degrees. After agreeing to teach in an Oklahoma public school for at least five years, a student would receive a $1,000 annual scholarship for the first three years of college, and $2,500 in their final year. After graduating, the teacher could receive as much as a $4,000 annual employment incentive payment for up to five years if the school district deems their service satisfactory.
“Every year, we’re losing more teachers with not enough students in the pipeline to fill our classrooms,” Pemberton said. “This commonsense solution will provide a $5,500 scholarship to students pursuing a teaching career, along with up to $20,000 during their first five years in the classroom. Making teaching degrees more affordable will help encourage more students to pursue this incredible career. We also know if a teacher stays in the classroom for at least five years, they’re more likely to make teaching a lifetime career, so offering bonus payments will hopefully help us create life-long teachers.”
Pemberton, a retired educator, noted that the number of students seeking teaching degrees in Oklahoma has fallen 33% in the last five years. In 2016, there were more than 1,500 students graduating with teaching degrees, compared to less than 1,060 last year. There are also currently around 3,800 emergency certified teachers in Oklahoma.
Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, is the principal House author of HB 3564.
"We want to do everything we can to incentivize Oklahomans to choose teaching as a profession, and once they do to stay in our classrooms long term, so our kids have the best education possible to prepare them for their future," McBride said. "This will help with our teacher shortage and lead to better student outcomes."
HB 4106 directs public school districts to develop and maintain a protocol, in partnership with one or more local mental health treatment providers certified by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (DMHSAS), to respond to students in mental health crisis to prevent suicide, self-harm, and harm to others. When a student under the age of 18 is identified as being in or at risk of a mental health crisis, the school must inform the parent or guardian and offer treatment referral information. It would require parental consent for any subsequent school action except in cases of immediate and life-threatening danger to self or others. The protocol and working agreements would be reviewed every two years by the district and its mental health provider partners, including information gathered from the Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment Survey or a similar survey. Updated protocols and working agreements would be submitted to the State Department of Education (SDE), and shared with DMHSAS. Parents could opt their student out of being included in the survey. The report would be submitted to the Senate Pro Tem, House Speaker and chairs of the House and Senate education and public health committees.
“Our schools play a critical role in protecting the mental health of Oklahoma’s students, which has been steadily declining, especially during the pandemic,” Pemberton said. “Tragically, nearly 10% of students in our state attempted suicide last year and 17% reported having suicidal thoughts. We must do better to protect our youth and make our schools sanctuaries for students by providing them the services they need in times of crisis.”
Rep. Mark Vancuren, R-Owasso, is the House author of HB 4106.
"Too many of the students in our schools have mental health needs that go unmet, even unfortunately resulting in self-harm or suicide," said Vancuren, a 30-year educator and coach. "Asking schools to use evidence-based protocols for responding to these students will ensure we are doing all we can to get them the help they need to be restored to full health."
Both measures will return to the House for further consideration.
For more information, contact: Sen. Pemberton: (405) 521-5533 or Dewayne.Pemberton@oksenate.gov