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Pa. teacher shortage acute in special education, math and in underserved communities

Desks in a classroom.
Matt Rourke
A classroom at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa., Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

According to Teach Plus, a nonprofit education advocacy group, the statewide teacher shortage is more acute in special education, math and science and in underserved rural and urban areas.

As of October 2023, school districts across Pennsylvania reported 2,000 teacher vacancies and another 6,500 are teaching on emergency certificates. An added concern is that the teacher attrition rate is 6%.

The state Department of Education issues emergency permits to public schools that are unable to fill teaching positions that have been advertised. Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree from a college or university approved by the state and meet all other eligibility requirements. Private schools cannot request emergency permits.

“We need about 15,000 more teachers at a minimum,” said Laura Boyce, Pennsylvania executive director of Teach Plus. “We need to be able to produce about double the [number] of teachers we are currently producing. Fewer than 7% are teachers of color compared to 38% percent of students.”

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Boyce made her comments May 3 at West Chester University, which hosted the legislators on the House Education Committee and other education stakeholders. There, they discussed ideas on how to improve the teacher pipeline to reduce the shortage further.

But Carris Pokorny-Golden, director of the bureau of school leadership and teacher quality at the Department of Education, told the committee that things are improving.

“We saw a nearly 28% increase in initial teacher certifications in 2022–23,” Porkorny-Golden said. “It’s something that we obviously hope continues, with some of the solutions that we have utilized to get the teacher shortage in a better place.”

“At West Chester University, we are committed to addressing the challenges facing teacher preparation,” said Christopher Fiorentino, president of West Chester University. “We are driven by a mission to inspire and transform those who will educate our future generations.”

According to Fiorentino, the national teacher shortage was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, the university created the Partnering in Raising Inclusive Zealous Educators program (PRIZE), led by Desha Williams, the school’s dean of the college of education and social work.

“This initiative demonstrates dedication to reversing the trends,” Fiorentino said.

“PRIZE is designed to cultivate a diverse group of future educators by providing high school students with access to college education courses at no cost. This program provides mentorship to develop skilled, passionate educators who return to their communities to teach.”

The Philadelphia School District is recruiting teachers and has a program that will pay for their education and help them get teacher certification.

State Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-134th District, of Lehigh County, majority chairman of the state House Education Committee, said the Legislature passed a bipartisan law in 2023 signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro that provided $10 million for the state’s educator pipeline program in the 2024–25 budget. Shapiro has proposed an additional $5 million for the program.

The money will be used to pay for a student teacher stipend for the 12-week classroom internship necessary for teacher certification.

In April, about 3,500 applications were received by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency website. However, the $10 million allocated will fund about 700 student teachers, with stipends of up to $15,000. Most will receive a $10,000 stipend for a student teaching internship. An additional $5,000 is available to student teachers at schools with teacher shortages. The prospective teachers will find out who will receive the grants this summer. The money will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Advocates of the legislation say it would cost an additional $75 million to fund all student teacher certifications.

According to Porkony-Golden, the Department of Education has sought to expand teacher internship programs, expedite the issuing of certificates and shorten the application process.

“We’ve tried to do a lot and there is more than we can do, and more that the administration can do,” Schweyer said.

Read more from our partners, WHYY.