HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — One day before the first budget address of Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, state lawmakers announced a bipartisan six-bill package to address the teacher shortage. The package of legislation is known as “Elevating Educators.”
Teachers, lawmakers and school officials at today’s announcement said teaching is one of the most rewarding professions, and also, one of the most essential.
“There is no better job in the world when it’s at its best,” said Tim Crane, a teacher in the Camp Hill School District, just outside of Harrisburg. “Literally, you’re making a difference in the kids’ lives every single day, and there’s no replacement for that. There’s nobody else that offers what we’re able to do,” he added.
However, Crane says making that difference in each child’s life is becoming more and more challenging with the ongoing teacher shortage.
“It’s becoming harder and harder to get folks into the classroom, staying in the classroom long term, which obviously impacts the level of educational achievement that we’re able to help our students get to,” said Crane. “For every teacher that we could have that we don’t have, that is dozens, maybe even hundreds of kids that we aren’t able to really make those differences for,” Crane added.
Many are calling it a crisis.
“We’re losing teachers at an alarming rate that are certified, qualified and experienced and doing great things for kids,” said Dr. Mike Robinson, Superintendent of the East Pennsboro Area School District.
“Between 2011 and 2021, the number of institutional one teaching certificates issued by Pennsylvania to in-state graduates declined by 64-percent,” said Rep. Jim Rigby (R-Somerset/Cambria).
Now, state lawmakers are proposing several bills that create scholarships, mentorship programs, paid student teaching, financial assistance for districts with hard to fill positions, and even a salary bump.
“In our public school code, it still lists the minimum salary for teachers at $18,500,” said Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin/Cumberland).
The six bills withing the Elevating Educators package:
Raising Education Professionals’ Salaries – Rep. Patty Kim:
Rep. Kim’s bill would raise the minimum salary for teachers to $50,000 and then another $2,500 each year until reaching $60,000.
Teacher Retention – Beginner Educator Support and Training (BEST) Program – Rep. Carol Hill-Evans (D- York) and Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia):
Legislation by Reps. Hill-Evans and Kinsey would create a mentor program for first-year teachers in districts with high turnover.
PA Teach Scholarship Program – Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks):
Rep. Rozzi’s proposal would create scholarships up to $32,000 over four years for students enrolled in a teaching program within the state system.
Grow Our Own Educators Program – Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh):
Rep. Schlossberg plans to sponsor legislation to create a grant program to support high-need schools in geographic areas that have hard-to-staff teaching positions by recruiting students, paraprofessionals, and parents to pursue teaching in their local school district.
Paraprofessionals to Teachers Grant Program – Rep. Jim Rigby (R-Somerset/Cambria):
Rep. Rigby’s proposal would create a grant program for colleges to create or expand programs for paraprofessionals to become certified teachers.
PA Teacher Loan Forgiveness – Rep. Regina Young (Philadelphia/Delaware):
Rep. Young’s proposal seeks to create a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program of up to $40,000 over four years for teaching in PA.
“Teacher shortages and teacher turnover is linked to lower student achievement and poorer school climates with increasingly worse outcomes for Pa’s more vulnerable students,” said Kim. “What we have in front of us are six solutions to a problem that will only be exacerbated with inaction. In as bipartisan a manner as possible, we are going to make these changes happen and ensure teachers receive the compensation and respect they deserve,” she added.
Teachers, school officials, education advocates and many lawmakers will be watching closely tomorrow as Gov. Shapiro gives his first budget address which will provide a blueprint for education funding levels for the next fiscal year.
On Friday, Shapiro announced he will propose a three-year tax incentive of up to $2,500/year for newly certified teachers, nurses, and police officers in tomorrow’s budget address.