Sheehans' departure highlights depth of state's education funding woes

NORMAN — Former Norman Public Schools employee and 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan’s departure to Texas earlier this year has been used by education advocates as an example of the negative effects of Oklahoma’s lack of adequate education funding.

Sheehan and his wife, Kaysi, announced they were moving to Texas prior to the fall semester, both taking positions in the Lewisville Independent School District. According to the Sheehans, they collectively received a $40,000 raise by moving to Texas.

Shawn Sheehan detailed reasons for his move in a blog post in May.

“I hope all my readers know I have loved every second of teaching in Oklahoma,” he wrote at the time. “There are great things happening in our schools every day and I have been honored to be a part of it. I hope I represented teachers well. I hope I shook things up a bit and sparked important conversations from the dinner table to the boardroom. And I hope my and my family’s departure, which is among many this year, makes a statement. We’re voting with our feet on this one.”

The announcement sparked continued discussion on how Oklahoma’s regionally low teacher salaries impact teacher retention. Responses to the Sheehans’ decision ranged from supportive to combative, and Shawn addressed the later criticisms in a blog post published last week.

In the post, Shawn, a math teacher, outlined his family’s income and expenses, demonstrating how the significant raises he and Kaysi received vastly overshadowed any cost of living expenses.

“I hope these numbers help provide anecdotal evidence to respond to the cost-of-living argument,” Shawn wrote. “Yes, some things cost more here in Texas. And when we begin to look at buying a house, that’s going to change things, too. But at the end of the day, we have something here in Texas that we likely never would have had teaching in Oklahoma: financial stability. See, in one year, we’ll have made roughly $40K more than we would have. Then, each successive year after that, it’ll be $40K more than it would have been. Three years later, and we’re an extra six figures ahead of what we would have made over the same amount of time. And that’s the math that I think most people forget about.

“This post took me a long time to write because it’s so deeply personal. It’s nerve-wracking being so transparent with our money and bills. But someone has to do it. Someone had to respond to the naysayers and dispel the myths about the cost of living in north Texas being exponentially higher than similar-sized suburbs in Oklahoma.”

Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, who recently defeated Darin Chambers to take over for Scott Martin in House District 46, said he’s hopeful a bipartisan budget deal will be reached in the current special legislative session.

Lawmakers have been unable to make significant headway three weeks after Gov. Mary Fallin called for a special session as they attempt to plug a $215 million budget hole created when the state supreme court ruled a new cigarette fee unconstitutional. Regardless of whether there is a budget deal, Rosecrants said education funding ideas are only as good as the recurring revenue bills to back them up.

“[A bipartisan deal] is going to have to be something that can really produce revenue, because if you don’t have that, any ideas I might come up with [for education funding] are going to have to be way outside of the box,” he said, adding that he’s even considering looking at school consolidation. “That’s sad I even have to look at [consolidation], because we don’t have enough funding to move our schools from survival to innovation. With the great teachers we have, we should be innovating. Instead, we’re making deep cuts to important programs.”

Rosecrants said he’s had to make sacrifices as a teacher and single father to make ends meet. He said he initially wanted Sheehan to stay in Oklahoma and “fight,” but helping provide the best quality of life for his family is more important.

“My children have been on SoonerCare when I was teaching,” Rosecrants said. “Here I was doing a hard job, and I’m basically in a breadline. It’s ridiculous. I don’t blame Shawn Sheehan in the least for going anywhere. Education isn’t respected as much in Oklahoma as it is in other states.”

Sheehan ran for state representative last year and lost to Rep. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, as part of a so-called teacher caucus that failed to receive broad support across the state. Education funding remains a significant discussion point heading into next year’s session, as the legislature continues to grapple with systemic budget failures for what is likely the third year in a row.

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