Pa. needs a long-term solution to educator shortage, PSEA president testifies

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Pa. needs a long-term solution to educator shortage, PSEA president testifies

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HARRISBURG, PA (Feb. 1, 2022) — Warning that Pennsylvania’s educator shortage is at a crisis level, PSEA President Rich Askey called on state lawmakers today to adopt strategies that will attract and retain a larger and more diverse pool of professionals to work in public school classrooms.

Between 2010-11 and 2019-20, Pennsylvania saw a 65% decline in the number of in-state and out-of-state Instructional I certificates issued.

Speaking at a hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, Askey encouraged lawmakers to take a long-term view of the problem in order to put sustainable solutions in place.

“The deterioration of the educator pipeline occurred steadily over a 10-year period, so we must begin our efforts with the understanding that fixing this problem is not something that is going to occur in a single budget year,” Askey said. “It’s going to take a sustained, multi-year effort to turn the tide — one that should be informed by data and outreach to current educators and young people to understand the challenges they are facing to stay in or enter the profession.”

Askey credited Act 91 of 2021, a bipartisan law enacted in December to address the current substitute teacher shortage, as an important first step but noted that much more needs to be done to address the troubling lack of educators and substitutes across Pennsylvania.

This must include a close look at the barriers to earning a degree in education and maintaining certification, especially for those educators earning low salaries, Askey said.

He said that Senate Bill 99, introduced with bipartisan support, offers a roadmap to support a robust and diverse pipeline of aspiring educators now and in the future. This bill:

  • Establishes high school career and technical education programs that are specifically designed to provide students with early exposure to K-12 education career pathways and allow interested students to begin their career training and credentialling — at no cost — while still in high school.
  • Expands dual enrollment programs, which, if properly funded, can make post-secondary education significantly more affordable.
  • Establishes the Diversification of Education Workforce Fund, which will provide competitive grants to institutions of higher education to increase diversity within teacher preparation programs. (Askey called for a $10 million initial investment.)
  • Requires the state Department of Education to collect and publish data, set goals, and coordinate efforts around teacher recruitment, retention, and diversity.

These measures, particularly the creation of the Diversification Fund, will help diversify Pennsylvania’s educator workforce, something that is strongly needed, Askey said.

While students of color make up 36% of Pennsylvania’s public school students, teachers of color comprise only 6% of the educator workforce, according to Research for Action. Research has shown that students of color perform better and are more likely to graduate when taught by teachers of color, Askey noted.

“As we aim to resolve the overall shortage, Pennsylvania must focus on educator diversity,” he said.

Attracting talented professionals to education is only half the equation, Askey said. School districts must also look at ways to retain educators and school professionals, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has driven some out of the profession altogether.

One way school districts can improve retention is by using a fraction of the $4.5 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funding they are receiving to pay substitutes more — including benefits — and provide current educators with retention bonuses.

“Strategies like these could provide greater day-to-day stability for teachers and students,” Askey said. “Educator compensation must reflect the value that these professionals provide to their students, their communities, and society as a whole.”

Above all else, Askey urged lawmakers to show respect for educators working hard during a difficult time in public education.

“Policymakers can demonstrate their respect for and value of the work our educators have done and continue to do by tackling the educator shortage in a way that doesn’t blame them for the problem or diminish their calling,” Askey said. “PSEA stands ready to work with all policymakers to respond to the teacher shortage in a holistic way that puts solutions in place, so we’re not dealing with this same issue in another 20 years.”

Read Rich Askey’s testimony.

An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 178,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.