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HARRISBURG, PA (Feb. 28, 2023) – Warning that staffing shortages are at crisis levels in Pennsylvania’s public schools, PSEA President Rich Askey called on the Legislature today to increase starting salaries for educators and support professionals and to adopt policies that remove barriers to entering education professions.
Testifying at a hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee, Askey spoke in support of solutions that respect and value the important role educators and support professionals play in the lives of the state’s 1.7 million public school students.
“Fixing the longer-term educator pipeline is going to take a sustained, multiyear commitment to address barriers,” Askey said. “And the most significant of those are the cost of becoming a teacher and the salaries we pay.”
At the heart of the school staffing crisis is a decline in the number of college graduates entering education professions. Between the 2010-11 and 2020-21 school years, the number of Instructional 1 certificates issued to in-state graduates declined by 64%, while the number of emergency permits rose by more than 200%.
To address the problem, Askey called on policymakers to adopt a state-funded plan that sets minimum salaries at $60,000 a year for education professionals, including educators, school counselors, and nurses. He also called for a $20 per hour minimum wage for education support professionals, such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and paraprofessionals.
“Educator compensation must reflect the value that these professionals provide to their students, their communities, and society as a whole,” Askey said.
He noted that a growing number of states, including Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, and New Mexico, have enacted increases in educator salaries. Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia are considering doing the same.
States like Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, and Maine are proposing raising minimum wages for support professionals. Delaware just set a $21 per hour minimum wage for bus drivers.
In addition to increases in pay, Askey called for measures that would make a career in education more accessible to more traditional and non-traditional students. That should include paying students in college teacher preparation programs while they complete their 12 weeks of required student teaching.
Many students struggle to afford the cost of commuting to student teacher placements — some traveling as long as an hour or more each way every day. Students also find it difficult to afford assessments and other fees necessary to obtain teaching certification.
Several states, including Colorado, Michigan, and Oklahoma, have invested in new programs to pay stipends to student teachers. For example, students in Michigan can receive up to $9,600 per semester to help pay tuition, living expenses, and costs associated with student teaching.
Askey also encouraged senators to invest in “grow your own” programs that help paraprofessionals and other school support staff go back to college to earn their teaching credentials. Creating new pathways to the profession will open the door to great teachers who might otherwise never make their way to a classroom.
As lawmakers grapple with educator shortages, Askey urged them to also look at ways to make the state’s educator workforce more diverse. In 2020-21, teachers of color accounted for only 6% of Pennsylvania’s educator workforce, while students of color accounted for 36% of all students, according to Research for Action.
“A report issued by the Learning Policy Institute in April 2018 revealed that when taught by teachers of color, students of color have better academic performance and improved graduation rates and are more likely to attend college,” Askey noted in his written testimony. “As we aim to resolve the overall shortage, Pennsylvania must concurrently focus on educator diversity.”
Finally, Askey made the case for hiring more school nurses, counselors, and other mental health providers as many students struggle with anxiety, depression, and bullying.
“Just as we need to restore our teacher pipeline, we need to make sure we are recruiting and retaining school health professionals to meet a growing set of needs,” Askey said.
Askey closed out his remarks by saying that PSEA is ready and willing to work with policymakers to tackle these challenges. He also cautioned lawmakers that educator shortages should not be used as an excuse to lower standards for Pennsylvania’s school employees.
“Pennsylvania’s educator certification requirements are some of the most rigorous and comprehensive in the nation,” Askey noted in his written testimony. “These high-quality standards must be lauded and protected.”