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Lawmakers unveil plan to address Pa.’s teacher shortage

  • Jan Murphy/PennLive
Travis Waters, chief recovery officer for Harrisburg School District, said treating teachers with respect is a way to address Pennsylvania's teacher shortage that requires no money or a new law. Waters spoke at a Capitol news conference on Monday on solutions to addressing the problem of attracting and retaining teachers. March 6, 2023

 Jan Murphy /

Travis Waters, chief recovery officer for Harrisburg School District, said treating teachers with respect is a way to address Pennsylvania's teacher shortage that requires no money or a new law. Waters spoke at a Capitol news conference on Monday on solutions to addressing the problem of attracting and retaining teachers. March 6, 2023

What’s happening: Lawmakers and others in the education arena are growing increasingly concerned about the reduction in the number of teachers and support staff in Pennsylvania’s classrooms.

At a Capitol news conference on Monday, a band of Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Patty Kim, D-Cumberland/Dauphin counties, and joined by Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Cambria County, highlighted the teacher shortage schools are facing. They proposed a package of bills called Elevating Educators to address it.

What’s the problem: Research shows the number of new teachers certified annually has declined from 20,000 in 2010 to less than 7,000 in 2021. Meanwhile, the number of educators who are teaching with emergency credentials – meaning they are not fully qualified to teach the grades or subjects for which they are hired – has risen by 300% to 5,958 since 2010.

What’s more, nearly one in five teachers work a second job to make ends meet. Ten or 15 years ago, an elementary school teacher opening easily would draw 100 applications now that number is greatly decreased, said Travis Waters, chief recovery officer for Harrisburg School District.

Pennsylvania isn’t alone in its struggle to attract and retain teachers and school paraprofessionals. According to a Chalkbeat analysis of eight states (that did not include Pennsylvania), more teachers than usual exited the classroom after the last school year.

Why it matters: This has resulted in larger class sizes and less individualized student support, lawmakers and education groups say. It also has increased teachers’ workloads as well as burnout rates due to the lost prep periods and increased responsibilities teacher must take on.

Principals and other administrators are having to cover classes reducing time spent on other responsibilities, the lawmakers said. Also troubling, they said, is the inability to comply with individualized education plans for students with disabilities and other legal requirements.

All of this is contributing to high teacher turnover and will lead to lower student achievement.

What they propose: The package of bills includes a proposal from Kim that would raise the state’s $18,500 minimum teacher salary to $50,000 initially and add $2,500 a year over the next four years until it reaches $60,000.

Kim said this would lead to pay raises for about 15,400 educators statewide. She also is calling for a $20 minimum hourly wage for paraprofessionals, such as bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers.

Jan Murphy / PennLive

At a Monday Capitol news conference, Rep. Patty Kim, D-Cumberland/Dauphin counties, said raising the base salary for teachers “will be a step forward in bolstering the teacher pipeline and attracting new and diverse professionals. We need to make bold steps to fix the systemic problem. Tweaks and Band-Aids will not work.” March 6, 2023

Other bills in the package would create grant programs to support high-need schools in heavily urban and rural areas to recruit students, paraprofessionals and parents to pursue teaching positions in their local schools and one that would assist paraprofessionals to become certified teachers.

Another proposal would offer up to $40,000 over four years in teacher loan forgiveness for teaching in Pennsylvania. Another would offer an $8,000 a year scholarship for up to four years to students who enroll in a teacher prep program at a state-owned university that would require they stay and teach in Pennsylvania for each year they received a scholarship.

A fifth proposal in the package would create a mentor program to assist new teachers in districts that have a high turnover rate.

What people say about it: Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, who is sponsoring the scholarship program legislation to help cover the college cost to become a teacher, said educators today are burdened with college loans. Even though they are compensated better in Pennsylvania than in surrounding states, he said, “Many of our graduates still move to other states after receiving their degrees. We need to establish stronger incentives to keep quality teachers here in Pennsylvania.”

Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, who is joining Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, in proposing legislation to invest in training and support of new teachers to help lower the number exiting the profession early.

“Teacher turnover highly correlates with students’ education outcomes. To assure our children can receive the best education possible it is imperative that teachers are retained so our children have stability and consistency in their classrooms,” Kinsey said.

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey said a growing number of states, including Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, and New Mexico, have already raised their teacher salaries while Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia are considering doing the same.

Others are raising the minimum wage for support paraprofessionals, he said. Askey pointed to Delaware that has put enough money in its state budget to pay bus drivers a minimum $21 per hour wage.

If these other states can prioritize investment to address school staffing shortages, Askey said, “so can we. To ensure that our public schools have enough talented, caring professionals to help our students succeed every step of the way, we need to do this.”

Waters, the former Steelton-Highspire School District superintendent, pointed out not everything needed to reverse the trend of teachers leaving the profession requires a new law or costs money. All it requires, he said, is treating educators with respect.

“Being an educator is an honorably profession where the people who choose the career path do so selflessly understanding that they are not going to get rich,” Waters said. “Educators deserve respect and should not be vilified by parents, the communities they work in, students or our elected officials.”

Jan Murphy may be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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