Should I stay or should I go?

This question is more than just the refrain from the insanely catchy 1982 hit by The Clash. It’s also a daily quandary facing Oklahoma’s underpaid educators.

Shawn P. Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, posed this question in a recent op-ed in The Oklahoman:

“We love our school, our district, our city, our students and their families, but what’s happening to education in Oklahoma is criminal. And, the thing is, it’s not just education. The recurring budget deficits have reduced all core state services to scraps.”

Sheehan argues that Oklahoma isn’t investing enough into the education system – ultimately driving teachers to leave for better-paying jobs in neighboring states like Texas.

“We want to stay and serve our students, but we will no longer feel guilt for wanting to provide for our family. We’re tired of the rhetoric and guilt tactics. Of course, I knew teaching wasn’t a high-paying career, but I should be able to pay my bills. My work and my talents are worth more than my salary.”

Last month, we released a report entitled Retirement Security for Oklahoma Teachers Still Overlooked. The report reveals some startling facts about the dismal shape of Oklahoma’s education system. On average, Oklahoma teachers are paid $4,700 less than teachers in surrounding states and Oklahoma ranks 47th of 50 states in per pupil expenditures on instruction and salaries. Additionally, total cuts to education spending will exceed $50 million in 2017, due to the continuing revenue failures.

As a result of these cuts, teachers are forced to shoulder a heavier workload as class sizes increase and positions are eliminated. Oklahoma is facing a severe teacher shortage and legislators have failed to agree on what should be a simple solution: offer educators competitive pay and benefits, including a defined benefit pension.

Oklahoma’s children deserve to learn from the best and brightest. Pensions make that possible. By properly funding the education system and supplying teachers with the security of a pension, Oklahoma can help ensure that teachers like Sheehan stick around.