Oklahoma charter schools hire math, science teachers from overseas

Four Oklahoma charter schools recruited 22 teachers from overseas to fill a well-documented shortage of math and science teachers in the United States.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: May 24, 2011
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Four Oklahoma charter schools employ about 15 percent of their teachers from overseas using temporary nonimmigrant work visas, according to documents provided by the superintendent of the schools.

A similar chain of 33 charter schools in Texas reports that less than 20 percent of its teachers are from foreign countries using the work visas.

The independent school chains are privately run, but funded with state tax dollars.

The schools have come under scrutiny by conservative and tax watch groups throughout the nation, including Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE), which can be defined as both.

“If Oklahoma teachers are being laid off, why are we as Oklahoma taxpayers paying people from not even inside our country to come and teach our children?” asks Jenni White, president of ROPE.

But the superintendents at both organizations are defending their use of foreign workers to fill positions for which there is a documented shortage in the United States.

“People who criticize us, they don't really know anything about our schools,” said Superintendent Soner Tarim with the Harmony Schools in Texas run by the Cosmos Foundation.

“As opposed to them (the critics), isolated groups, we have 16,000 students and so many parents, thousands of parents. We had 21,000 students on our waiting list last year in Texas.”

Kaan Camuz, superintendent of the four Sky Foundation schools in Oklahoma, said they always look for qualified American teachers before they start searching for international teachers.

“Finding a willing teacher for rigorous math and science classes is difficult,” Camuz said. “My teachers work a lot more hours than any other math and science teachers. They have to come in on Saturday and Sunday. To find such a willing teacher is really, really hard.”

The teachers come to America on temporary, nonimmigrant visas known as H-1B visas.

The visas are good for three years but an employer can apply for a three-year extension.

Of the 149 teachers employed at the four Oklahoma schools, 22 are here on H-1B visas.

Two of the schools are in Oklahoma City: Dove Science Academy, grades six to 12, and Dove Science Academy Elementary, grades kindergarten to fifth.

The other two schools are in Tulsa: Dove Science Academy, grades six to 12, and Discovery School of Tulsa, grades kindergarten to eighth.

The 33 Harmony Schools operated by the Cosmos Foundation in Texas employ about 1,550 and of those about 292 are using H-1B visas, Tarim said.

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If Oklahoma teachers are being laid off, why are we as Oklahoma taxpayers paying people from not even inside our country to come and teach our children?”

Jenni White

Restore Oklahoma Public Education president

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