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Shapiro touts tax credit to incentivize teaching during Pittsburgh school visit

Gov. Josh Shapiro fist bumps a Colfax K-8 student on Tuesday during a school visit to discuss the state's teacher shortage.
Gov. Shapiro's office
Gov. Josh Shapiro fist bumps a Colfax K-8 student on Tuesday during a school visit to discuss the state's teacher shortage.

In his latest stop on a tour to talk up his first state budget, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro told Pittsburgh Public Schools staff on Tuesday that he was working to get them more support.

Shapiro included a tax incentive program in the spending plan that he released earlier this month. If approved, new teachers, nurses, and police officers would receive a personal income tax credit worth as much as $2,500 a year for up to three years for working in what Shapiro called “frontline” trades.

Each of the three professions is facing a statewide worker shortage. And even as many teachers are leaving the profession, fewer are being trained. Shapiro said Tuesday that the state certified just 6,100 teachers last year, compared to around 20,000 a decade ago. He said his administration is trying to figure out why the number dropped so dramatically.

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“Part of the way we address the ‘why’ is through financial incentives," he said Tuesday at Colfax K-8 in Squirrel Hill. Along with goals like improving the classroom experience, he said, the initiative would "hopefully go into making sure that those certification numbers begin to rise again.

“This won’t happen overnight," he acknowledged, "but now is the moment we have to make the down payments in order to help the next generation.”

Shapiro’s proposed budget includes: a nearly 8% increase in basic education funding; universal free breakfast for all students; $500 million over five years to reduce and remediate environmental hazards in schools; and another $500 million for schools to fund mental health counselors or existing behavioral health programs.

“There’s a whole host of things we can do to make their classroom experience a better one,” he said.

Shapiro told Colfax staff on Tuesday that his proposals are one example of the kind of large changes the state must make in its funding of public education.

Last month a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that the way the state funds education is unconstitutional, because its reliance on local property tax revenues creates huge gaps between wealthy and poor districts. The state provides only about a third of what it costs districts to operate.

The judge’s nearly 800-page ruling says that the current funding system violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause.

As for the teaching profession, Shapiro said he hopes the financial incentive will demonstrate a level of respect for teaching — which may encourage more young people to go into education.

Shapiro visited a sixth-grade class, in which students were building science experiments using trash and recyclables. The teacher told Shapiro that trash was the most equitable material that the school has access to. Shapiro said that he and the legislature have a responsibility to ensure that all kids have access to the materials they need to learn.

“We now have a responsibility to ensure that our kids all get a shot and that there’s real equity in our system,” he said. “And while that’s going to require millions and millions, if not billions, more dollars over the next number of years, it’s important that we allocate those resources in a fair and equitable way.”

Another future goal, Shapiro said, would be "trying to do away with standardized testing, which I think undermines the classroom experience.”

Colfax principal Tamara Sanders Woods spoke Tuesday about the connection between the well-being of children and the advancement of society. She noted that in African tribes, greetings often include the question “and how are the children?”

“I urge you to begin asking yourselves, ‘And how are the educators?’” she said. “To find a quick answer to that question, you need only to have a conversation with anyone in the education field who works in a building or district that is understaffed, underfunded, [or] with limited resources to equitably and appropriately support specific student needs, yet still making the impossible possible.”

Shapiro said Tuesday that the legislature will be measured by “how the kids are.”

By law, the state is supposed to have a budget in place by the start of the new fiscal year, on July 1.

Corrected: March 21, 2023 at 8:02 PM EDT
Updated to correct that $500 million could be potentially allocated in Gov. Shapiro's budget.