OKLAHOMA CITY (OBV) – A bill that seeks to help teachers and school employees remain in the workforce by providing them better access to childcare is making its way through the Oklahoma State Legislature.
The Oklahoma Senate approved Senate Bill 16 last week.
SB 16, written by Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, establishes a pilot program to provide grants to school districts that will fund a range of childcare options for school employees.
“We’ve been working so hard in recent years to find innovative ways to help retain our current teachers and recruit more outstanding professionals to our classrooms. As a former teacher and from speaking with other educators, I know one of the major problems is having access to childcare or being able to afford it if its available,” Bullard said.
The bill directs the State Board of Education to create the two-year program. Bullard said the program will award childcare grants to school districts.
Districts can apply for grants and use awarded funds to either provide on-site childcare services, contract with a local daycare or offer vouchers so that the teachers can pay for a private school or a private daycare facility themselves.
“This is a commonsense benefit for families that will hopefully keep teachers and school employees in the workforce,” Bullard said.
The expensive cost of early childcare has caused many teachers to step away from teaching and exit the workforce, according to Bullard.
“In fact, after numerous studies, it was found that this was one of the greatest factors that led to the Great Resignation nationwide during the pandemic,” Bullard said. “Having a pilot program will allow us to see what the best way is to set this up before we attempt to go statewide. I’m grateful for my colleagues’ support, and I hope the House gives this fair consideration and doesn’t let politics get in the way of good policy for our dedicated teachers and school employees.”
The LOFT Report states that the average teacher salary in Oklahoma is $52,397. Economic Policy Institute data shows that the average annual cost of infant care in Oklahoma is $8,576, which comes to $715 per month. Childcare for a four year old costs $6,605 a year ($550 a month). The average Oklahoma teacher has to use 16 percent of their salary to afford care for their infant, and 13 percent of their salary for childcare for a young child.
Bullard, who also has a career as a teenager, spoke with Oklahoma Business Voice about the bill and described his family’s struggle to afford childcare.
“My wife and I went through this same struggle. By the time you pay for the childcare, you’re not really bringing home much of a paycheck,” he said. “And so we ended up just thinking through, ‘How can we help these teachers stay in the classroom more?'”
Helping Oklahoma teachers pay for childcare not only helps keep teachers in the classroom, it’s also a strong incentive for out-of-state teachers to come work in Oklahoma, Bullard said.
The state’s workforce will grow as a result, Bullard said.
“We’ve seen a very big problem in workforce participation,” he said. “Anything we can do to get people back involved, no matter where that area is – if it’s in education, law enforcement, construction trades, things like that – if we can find ways to help people get back into those career fields, the better off we’re going to be as a state.”
SB 16 will next be heard in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, is the principal House author of the bill.