Oklahoma teachers
Sidewalk chalk spells out a message of student support at Wilson Elementary School in Oklahoma City. (NonDoc)

Oklahoma lawmakers are being told that the guarantee of a well-funded pension system will help solve the state’s teacher shortage issues.

With the release of a new report, Retirement Security for Oklahoma Teachers Still Overlooked (embedded below), teachers from across the state gathered at the Oklahoma State Capitol today to explain how important their own pensions have been toward keeping them in their jobs.

They also explained why attacks on pensions by lawmakers ultimately hurt recruitment efforts of new Oklahoma teachers.

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Defined benefit pensions save districts money

Oklahoma is experiencing a severe teacher shortage. School districts across the state reported more than 500 teaching vacancies at the beginning of the current school year, despite eliminating more than 1,500 teaching positions since the last school year.

According to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, half of all elementary schools will increase class sizes above 23 students, which is beyond the state maximum of 20. Other teachers have reported class sizes reaching the 30s.

Many pinpoint the issue as one of recruitment: Oklahoma’s average teacher salary ranks among the lowest in the country, higher than only two other states. The average teacher salary in Oklahoma in 2015-2016 was just under $45,000, far below the national average of $58,000. The ability to offer retirement security — via a defined benefit pension — is an attractive and necessary tool for quality teacher recruitment.

From the new report:

Academic research indicates that pensions help schools retain high-quality employees. By reducing teacher turnover, defined benefit pensions save school districts money.


National surveys reveal that two-thirds of American workers would be willing to forego salary increases in order to earn a defined benefit pension and a secure retirement. Many teachers have been willing to accept lower salaries during their working years in exchange for the guarantee of a secure retirement. However, this is another area where Oklahoma falls short compared to Texas and other neighboring states.

The report goes on to compare Oklahoma teachers’ pensions with those in West Virginia, and it discusses the ramifications of a 2015 change to the way benefit plans are implemented for new Oklahoma state employees other than teachers.

Those interested in learning more about how to support a strong teacher pension system in Oklahoma should contact Kris Masterman by email or phone at (405) 706-0124.