Oklahoma Senate committee green lights bill to give scholarships to future teachers

A bill that would give scholarships and bonuses to future teachers received a do pass recommendation from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 3564, which would create the Oklahoma Future Teacher Scholarship and Employment Incentive Program, is designed to address teacher shortages and pipeline issues Oklahoma is facing, said Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, one of the sponsors of the bill.

The measure would grant annual $1,000 scholarships for students in teacher education programs in their first three years. The scholarship would increase to $2,500 for the student’s final year, according to the bill. The maximum amount of scholarship funds each student can receive would be capped at $5,500.

Once graduated and teaching professionally, recipients would get an annual $4,000 bonus in their first four to five years of teaching.

The total cost for the program was estimated at $41 million over a span of nine to 10 years, Pemberton said during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“What research has shown is if we keep a teacher in education for five years, those first two to three years are the toughest, that they will continue in education and more likely stay the majority of their career, so we think this is a good expenditure of state dollars,” Pemberton said.

Oklahoma saw the highest number of emergency certifications ever issued over the past year, according to Pemberton. He said the state is about 3,800 teachers short.

“Why have we seen such a reduction in the number of students entering into an education college?” Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, asked.

Pemberton said it was difficult to say definitively what factors are contributing to the teacher decline.

“If you look back at some of the things that have been done at the state Department of Education as far as checking back with and surveying teachers that have left the field and what they think the biggest problem is, funding, scholarship (and) opportunities are always in that top three,” Pemberton said.

Rader also questioned whether the program would be enough to attract the number of teachers the state needs. Pemberton said that was the million-dollar question.

“We feel like this is, when talking to education professionals in the field, they feel like this is a great opportunity and a great start for that,” Pemberton said. “And those first four or five years for someone who just gets out of college and they’re on the bottom end of the salary schedule, they don’t make a lot of money.”

If passed, information about the scholarship would go out to all the schools and student counseling services to make prospective students aware of the financial aid available to them.

The House passed the bill last month. It now heads to the Senate floor for full approval.

This article was originally posted on Oklahoma Senate committee green lights bill to give scholarships to future teachers

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