PSEA prioritizes focus on student health, safety, and learning in schools budget

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PSEA prioritizes focus on student health, safety, and learning in schools budget

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Chris Lilienthal (717) 255-7134
David Broderic (717) 255-7169

HARRISBURG, PA (February 27, 2020) – As a key state Senate committee takes up Gov. Wolf’s proposed education budget today, the Pennsylvania State Education Association urges lawmakers to make investments that ensure our public schools continue to be strong foundations for student learning.

“Our number one goal is to ensure that Pennsylvania’s students are healthy, safe, and getting a world-class education,” PSEA President Rich Askey said. “To achieve this goal, we must find ways to attract and retain a new generation of talented and diverse professionals to work with our students.”

PSEA’s 2020 policy priorities include initiatives to fund more school nurses, mental health professionals, and teaching assistants in our schools, provide loan forgiveness and higher starting salaries to struggling educators, and increase diversity among the educator workforce.

Askey noted that funding more school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and teaching assistants is a necessary step to bolstering student health and safety in our schools.

“School nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and teaching assistants provide students with the one-on-one support they need to be healthy and successful, and we need more of them,” Askey said. “We know that these professionals help students address their needs and navigate challenges that would otherwise prevent them from learning.”

PSEA also understands that by providing loan forgiveness to more educators and raising the state’s minimum educator salary from $18,500 to $45,000 per year, Pennsylvania will encourage more young people to pursue careers in education.

It is essential to take these steps now as Pennsylvania faces a growing educator shortage. The number of new teacher certificates issued in Pennsylvania has dropped by 74 percent between 2012-13 and 2018-19, while the number of college students completing Pennsylvania teacher prep programs has dropped by 32 percent between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

“Pennsylvania is in the throes of an educator shortage, and something must be done,” Askey said. “Educators are key to student success. If we tackle this problem, attract more young people to this profession, and retain them over time, students will benefit academically.”

As we grow our state’s educator workforce, we must also find creative ways to attract more people of color to teaching, Askey said. Only 4 percent of Pennsylvania’s educators are people of color, even though 29 percent of students are, according to Research for Action. It is one of the lowest rates in the country.

“We need to build on successful efforts to put more educators who are people of color in Pennsylvania’s classrooms,” Askey said. “Students of all races and backgrounds benefit when schools employ more teachers of color. Researchers have found that students of color, in particular, achieve better academic performance, better graduation rates, and have greater aspirations to go to college.”

Askey said that PSEA wants to work collaboratively with policymakers in the coming months to find solutions to these challenges.

“We look forward to partnering with Gov. Wolf and lawmakers from both parties to ensure that our students are successful, now and in the future,” he said.

Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 180,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.