OKLAHOMA CITY — Special education teachers in Oklahoma are among the lowest-paid in their field in the country, but a new push to attract teachers is beginning at the Capitol.
Bonny Reibert is a special ed teacher at McClure Elementary School in Tulsa. She is almost always in her classroom at school, and frequently loses sleep trying to organize Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
"I'm literally maximizing every moment I have of every opportunity," Reibert said. "My school has 100 students on IEPs, and I have 50 of them."
Reibert started her career in Texas 12 years ago, but she says her current situation may be the most challenging. Between low pay, few resources, and high expectations, she says Oklahoma has a long way to go before they can begin recruiting and keeping teachers.
State lawmakers say one of the toughest challenges facing them in education is getting special ed instructors to come to and stay in the state.
In Oklahoma, special ed teachers are paid 5% more than the prevailing wage of their school district. In 2018, special ed teachers in Oklahoma made around $42,000 on average, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. On Zip Recruiter, that puts the state at second to last in the country.
Senator Gary Stanislawski wants to change course. Senate Bill 1617 would raise the minimum special ed teacher pay from the current 5% to 7.5%, he says to make an attempt "to let those teachers know how important they are to those students and families, and try to make their pay competitive so we can try to recruit and retain more."
Reibert says it's a good incentive, as long as it comes without adding any extra work. She says raising pay without asking teachers to do more than they're already tasked with is a step in the right direction.
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