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Okla. Lawmaker Wants Raise for Special Ed Teachers

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LAWTON Okla_ It's a difficult job, and that is why there is a severe shortage of special education teachers in Oklahoma and all over the nation, for that matter.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill by Lawton Representative and former teacher Ann Coody that would give special education teachers two opportunities for raises. 

Unfortunately, not all special education teachers will receive the benefits. There is more turnover for those teaching autistic, emotionally disturbed, and profoundly disabled children. So, the bill would only affect teachers with those students.  That's simply because there isn't enough money to go around.

Mary Couger could retire, but there are two reasons she can't bring herself to do it just yet.

"Everyday, I get something new from a child and watch them grow in just little bitty increments," Couger said.

Her classroom at Lawton's MacArthur Middle School is a perfect mix of learning, love, and laughter for her autistic students. Behind her smiling face is a real concern, though. Along with it, another reason she doesn't want to call it quits.

"There's a large turnover, I think," Couger said. "I think they become frustrated."

Representative Ann Coody agrees. That is why she authored the bill that would allow for a 5% pay raise.

What does this mean to our teachers in real dollars? If a teacher makes $32,000 per year, this 5% increase would give them $1,600 extra dollars in their pockets. It's not a lot, but Coody hopes that it will show enough appreciation and be enough of a reward to get teachers to go into and stay in this important line of work.

"Special needs children need specially trained teachers to teach them in the way they can best learn," Coody said.

Couger was all smiles when we talked about the bill, but it wasn't for selfish reasons.

"I want to make sure there is someone there for the students coming up in the next 5-10 years," Couger said, "And there's somebody that's going to stay there, learn the process, get familiar with it and be good at it."

Under the bill, this special group of teachers would indeed be rewarded for doing just that. A teacher would get another 5% increase for longevity or staying in the same district for 5 years in a row. While that may seem unnecessary, Couger said these students benefit from having the same teacher day in and day out.

"You don't have to stop and think every time something happens," Couger said. "You can just step in and start reacting to it and interacting with it."

This bill actually calls for a 10% raise for this special group of teachers, but after some digging, I found out that number includes the 5% that all special education teachers in Oklahoma already make above what the regular classroom teacher makes. So in all reality, it would only be a 5% raise.

The bill would also allow a regular teacher to do a 150-hour study in special education for a provisional certificate. It would be good for a year, with opportunities available to renew.

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