State of education 2017: Schools face teacher and funding shortages

Oklahoma teachers shop at the Feed the Children Teacher Store in Oklahoma City. (KOKH)

It is not an easy time to be in education in Oklahoma. Schools are facing shortages in teachers and funding. Teachers have had promises made and broken by politicians for years and the funding crisis has reached a new high point.

As schools have worked to keep the doors open and the lights on supplies for classrooms have fallen more on teachers than ever before.

It is a fact that has made an annual pilgrimage to Oklahoma City a necessity for teachers from all over Oklahoma.

“About an hour and fifteen minutes, but it’s worth it,” Kim Vickrey said of her drive in from Depew to shop at the Feed the Children Teacher Store.

Teachers can shop for free and choose from supplies ranging from pens and paper to books and binders. There is even classroom furniture available.

“I'm an English teacher so the books that I get I can use as novel studies you can get a whole class set of books and it saves your district having to buy that,” Vickrey told FOX 25.

While the supplies are free for teachers, they have already paid the price.

“I found notebooks and stuff I needed in my classroom,” Lela Rainer, who drove in from Chickasha said. “I got address labels we use all over the classroom cause I’m a pre-k teacher.”

The materials are all donated to Feed the Children, this year’s store is sponsored by Oklahoma Whataburger restaurants.

“It's great to have people who have our backs and want to help us take care of our kids because that's what we do,” Meagan Vandecar, a teacher from Depew said.

Teachers have been promised raises, but the only thing they’ve been given have been cuts to classrooms. Many teachers have seen class sizes increase.

“There's always the days that you hear that but there are always good days along with it so you just have to focus more on that than the bad days,” said Chris Eckler a math teacher from Ada.

While there is hope and optimism, there's also the reality that some teachers just can't afford to teach in Oklahoma. A reality that is leaving empty positions in school districts across the state.

“It is really, really worrisome that we cannot find certified applicants who have actually done some training in teaching who are wanting to apply to these positions,” Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora told FOX 25.

The amount of emergency certified teachers has continued to rise in Oklahoma.

Superintendent Lora said emergency certified teachers often bring good experience to classrooms, but many times lack the knowledge of how to manage students or how to present information in the best way for students to learn.

Lora said even the most prepared emergency certified teacher may not be prepared for the fact that teachers do not just teach.

“Teachers really are the first line of defense in terms of getting to know students and finding out what some of the challenges they face are,” Lora said.

With cuts to other state agencies schools have had to fill the gap.

Students who have lost behavioral therapy due to health care cuts still need an education and without therapy pose as potential disruptions to other students.

Students who suffer from hunger or abuse at home are not able to learn at the same pace if their basic needs are not met.

Yet, it is through education that students can find a way to break through generational cycles of poverty.

“We do need more funding for education but we can't do that on the backs of other state agencies,” Lora told FOX 25. “When people make cuts to organizations like DHS and Mental Health those have a direct impact on us.”

There is hope and that hope is found in spades at places like The Teacher Store.

Where donations from corporations and the community are provided to teachers. It is a way to say people care about teachers and remind them that there are people who want to help share the burdens that teachers bear.

“It's really nice to know somebody appreciates it and somebody's stepping up and taking care where the state is missing the mark a little bit,” Vickrey said.

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