By Rep. Anita Kulik
As I write this article, it is Teacher Appreciation Week. The school districts that comprise the 45th Legislative District are Sto-Rox, Cornell, Montour, Carlynton, and Chartiers Valley. We also have numerous other private and charter schools in our district, as well.
I have had great opportunities as the State Representative to meet with teachers from all levels at our schools, and I know how fortunate we are to have them. The time they give, both during and after school hours, is worth commendation. As the school year comes to an end, we should thank our teachers for going above and beyond to educate our young people.
I remember years back when we had a great number of college students getting teaching degrees. Many had to go out of state to find jobs or go on sub-lists for long periods of time before securing permanent faculty spots. This is no longer the case.
Pennsylvania has seen a large decline in the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs. The decline has been especially noticeable in the fields of secondary math, technology-related studies and physical/health education. The number of out-of-state teachers entering the Commonwealth is likewise declining, as other states see the same issues that we are facing.
Data on this matter shows several issues impacting the shortage.
These include a lack of sufficient pay, legislative changes to the pension system, government interference in the very nature of teaching, a lack of respect, and the ever-rising cost of higher education.
During this new legislative session, several bills have been proposed to attempt to address the teacher shortage issue.
House Bill 141 would establish the “Grow Our Own Educators” program in Pennsylvania. The program would provide funding for talent recruitment grants administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. There are also provisions that seek to create several specific pathways to support individuals wanting to become teachers.
House Bill 143 would establish the “Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program” for those who are graduating, are working as teachers, and who have a federally insured student loan.
These individuals could receive up to $40,000 in loan forgiveness for serving as a teacher in a Pennsylvania school for at least four years.
House Bill 579 would create the “Beginning Educator Support and Training Program” through the Department of Education. The program would provide training, mentorship, and funding to schools with high teacher turnover.
House Bill 1019 would establish the “Paraprofessional-To-Teacher Certification Program”, which would provide funding to higher education institutions to develop programs for paraprofessionals looking to become teachers.
Coming from a family where both my parents were teachers, I have a particular understanding of what these professionals do and the roles they play in the lives of their students.
A lack of good teachers can have a devastating effect on our communities, as a whole. Our young people need and deserve proper interaction. We must make sure that there is proper staffing, to meet the needs of the students.
Unfortunately, the teaching profession is not the only profession suffering in our Commonwealth. Many bills are being proposed to address the decline in the number of people entering the medical fields and law enforcement fields. Along with teachers, our communities will be hit hard if we do not work to encourage our students to consider these fields.
Legislation is being proposed in both the House and Senate to address all these issues. I will be providing information on these proposals as they progress.