OKLAHOMA CITY — Four school districts have hired nearly a quarter of all adjuncts working in Oklahoma public schools following lawmakers’ decision to remove restrictions on many hours the nontraditional educators can teach, State Department of Education records show.

In all, the records released in response to an open records request show that 138 school districts hired adjuncts to teach in the 2022-23 school year, and about 366 total have been hired.

Records show nearly 1 in 4 adjuncts identifies as a racial minority, and nearly 4 in 10 are male. Classified by the state as support staff, adjuncts’ pay varies by district.

However, the State Department of Education said it does not track the qualifications of adjuncts nor their educational achievement levels. It remains unclear what percentage of the adjuncts have obtained college degrees versus are teaching with high school diplomas, and the records released didn’t reflect how many have been hired to teach core subject areas.

While adjuncts have been allowed to teach part-time in Oklahoma for over three decades, Senate Bill 1119 removed the 270-hour cap that limited how long they could teach, opening the door for districts to hire them full-time this school year.

The law does not require full-time adjuncts to have college degrees, but requires they have “distinguished qualifications in their field.” Local school districts have discretion to determine that criteria.

The law change has faced public scrutiny in recent weeks. Supporters say it allows more flexibility to fill vacancies, and they say local districts are using it wisely by adopting rules that fit community and student needs. Critics, though, question whether districts were hiring educators with only high school diplomas.

Shawn Hime, president of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said each district has a different perspective on adjuncts based on its needs and applicant pool.

He said several districts hired educators as adjuncts instead of using emergency or alternative certification routes because they don’t want to wait on the State Department of Education’s 12- to 15-week backlog. Local boards can hire an adjunct immediately.

But Hime said he’d like to see data regarding how many non-degreed are teaching in core academic subjects. He also believes the education department should be tracking the qualifications of adjuncts and whether they have a college degree. He said previously the department had a form on its website that asked principals to verify adjuncts’ degree status.

“There’s a lot of difference if you have adjuncts helping with dance class or cheerleading class or seventh-grade basketball versus an adjunct without a degree in a high school algebra class, so that’s the kind of data I would hope we could start collecting if we’re not currently collecting, so we can get a real picture of who we have in the classroom,” he said.

Hiring criteria varied widely among the four districts that state records show have hired the most adjuncts.

Edmond Public Schools sought to clarify its number of adjuncts. The state database indicates it has hired about 53.

In an email, Susan Parks-Schlepp, a spokeswoman for the district, said Edmond has 24 noncertified adjuncts and six certified. The district has worked to assist 30 other individuals who were hired as adjuncts receive their teaching certificates, she said.

Parks-Schlepp said years ago, the suburban district, which gained 700 new students last year, would have had hundreds of candidates apply for a position. Now, some positions receive none.

Hiring adjuncts allows the district to put a qualified professional in the classroom immediately while they may be working through the certification process, Parks-Schlepp said.

She said though not required by law, Edmond requires its adjuncts to have a bachelor’s degree and be at least 21.

Mid-Del Public Schools, which state records show employs 15 adjuncts, said it has hired them because of the limited number of certified teachers.

The majority of its adjuncts are former employees who worked as teaching assistants or paraprofessionals in classrooms, so the district was familiar with their quality of work, said Pam Huston, chief human resources officer, in an email.

The district does not require college degrees, Huston said.

“I do not look for us to continue to have so many adjunct instructors, but that will be dependent upon certified individuals available,” she said.

Jane Johnson, director of human resources, said in an email that every adjunct hired by Enid Public Schools has “a special circumstance,” such as having a college degree but not interviewing for a position in that subject, or working on finishing an education degree. The district has hired 13 adjuncts, state records show.

Guymon Public Schools, which has hired 10, wants to hire the most experienced certified teachers, but when those are not available, they employ “the best-qualified individuals,” said spokeswoman Cambry Riedl in an email.

The district “strictly follows state requirements,” and also employs some “experienced professionals,” Riedl said.

“Our expectations of adjunct teachers, except for our experienced professionals, are that they continue to develop their teaching skills … while working toward a degree or certification,” Riedl said.

It’s difficult for taxpayers to know the qualifications of adjuncts, said state Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa.

He has filed a bill that would require the state to collect that data because he believes taxpayers are “entitled to transparency and accountability,” and parents “deserve assurances that the people we’re hiring are generating positive learning outcomes.”

“It’s been argued that this merely increases flexibility so that highly talented individuals who don’t have the regular qualifications can work in the school,” he said. “OK. Can we have data on who these people are, then, through adequate reporting?”

He said lawmakers are discovering that “this simple adjustment to the rules has created some very big questions.”

State Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, said he’s asked Republican colleagues to put an end date on the bill now that the hour cap has been removed.

He also said state education officials should be tracking qualifications, and that lack of data seems like “an oversight.”

State Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, who authored the legislation, said in an email that it was her understanding that the State Department of Education was supposed to be collecting data on the qualifications.

She said she believes teaching is a noble profession and by “removing the barrier of limited hours,” individuals can look at teaching as a profession, rather than a part-time job or hobby.

Garvin said the legislation shouldn’t be criticized until “we find a permanent solution to our ongoing teacher shortage.”

“If the individuals who are criticizing my bill would help find ways to keep teachers in the classroom, we may be able to one day have the conversation about sunsetting the adjunct program,” she said. “However, I just want to say again that this bill’s intent is to expose kids to industry professionals, not to ‘solve the teacher shortage.’”

State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, the House author, said that every year, lawmakers are adding additional reports and red tape to K-12 schools.

“It doesn’t seem like much but it adds up,” he said. “Most want less money to be spent on administration, but it’s hard to achieve that when we keep adding regulations. Adjuncts have existed since 1991, and I’ve never received a complaint from a constituent about their district not being transparent with this.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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