Pa. House panel advances bill to ease teacher shortage | Tuesday Morning Coffee

The bill would encourage paraprofessionals and other school support staff to go back to college to earn their teaching credentials

By: - April 25, 2023 7:18 am

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A bill aimed at easing Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage has cleared a critical committee hurdle, winning praise from the state’s largest teachers’ union.

The House Education Committee voted 12-9 on Monday to approve legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, that would encourage paraprofessionals and other school support to go back to college to obtain their teaching credentials.

The Lehigh Valley lawmaker’s ‘Grow Our Own Educators‘ proposal would provide “financial assistance” to those professionals that includes “pathways for educators to help support high-need schools in geographic areas that have hard-to-staff teaching positions,” Schlossberg wrote in a December 2022 memo seeking support for his bill.

“The program would equip aspiring educators with the supports necessary to ultimately become a certified educator,” Schlossberg continued. “Recognizing the decline in the number of people seeking a teaching certification in this Commonwealth, and that this Commonwealth has one of the least diverse educator workforces in the country, we need to increase the pipeline of high-quality and diverse future educators.”

new analysis shows that Pennsylvania issued a record-low number of teacher certificates — 4,220 for in-state graduates of teacher preparation programs — during the 2021-22 school year, according to Penn State University associate professor Ed Fuller, who released research on the subject this month.

That’s a steep decrease from the more than 16,000 certificates issued in 2012-13, the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish reported last week.

The state has seen a more than 60% decline in teaching certificates since 2010. Lawmakers have taken steps to address the staffing crisis — such as temporarily expanding eligibility requirements to fill some job openings through the end of the 2022-23 academic year, Parish reported.

Taking to Twitter on Monday, Schlossberg noted that “In [Pennsylvania], we have seen a 66% decrease in college graduates entering the teaching profession.

Stemming the shortage “starts [with] respecting the profession. Then we work to provide educators [with] the financial support to get into the field and help our students succeed in the classroom,” Schlossberg said.

In a statement, Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey praised the committee’s action, saying the union remained committed to working with lawmakers to find “long-term solutions” to the staffing crisis.

“The commonwealth is not producing enough teachers to meet demand, and, as a result, we risk not having enough caring, qualified adults in our school buildings to address the many challenges our students face,” Askey said. “‘Grow Your Own’ programs can really help to alleviate the school staff shortage crisis.”

The state needs to “find new ways to grow the education profession and meet the school staff shortage crisis we’re facing head on,” Askey continued, noting that the union has made these efforts a “top priority,” and was “pleased that the House Education Committee is doing the same.”

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh,(Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

In his memo to his colleagues, Schlossberg stressed the urgency of addressing the staffing crisis.

“School districts across Pennsylvania are in dire need of teachers. The teacher shortage poses a real and growing crisis as district after district reports a need for additional qualified educators in classrooms,” he said.

The shortage “threatens our students’ ability to learn, reduces teacher effectiveness, and causes high teacher turnover. Although many fields of instruction are bearing the weight of the shortage, finding new, qualified teachers in mathematics, science and special education is increasingly difficult,” Schlossberg said.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.