By Jacob Schramm, Feature Editor
Photo courtesy of unsplash.com
Celebrities, athletes, scientists, and politicians, including former President Barack Obama, have commented on the impact that teachers have made on their lives. Bill Gates credited his fourth-grade English teacher with stoking his passion for learning at a pivotal time in his life, without which he would not have achieved the success he enjoys today. Almost every person can relate to the impact that a teacher can have. Society relies on teachers to usher its young generations through vital personal, social, and intellectual development. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has called public education a fundamental right, placing a constitutional responsibility on teachers to confer that right upon their students. Despite this reliance, scholars and institutions are sounding the alarm that the nation is facing a teacher shortage and is struggling to retain certified teachers or attract viable candidates to the profession.
The National Center for Education Statistics has reported that public schools are “struggling with a variety of staffing issues, including widespread vacancies and a lack of prospective teachers,” and 44 percent of public schools reported teaching vacancies as of 2022. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “many [school] districts have faced significant challenges in attracting and retaining teachers, and preexisting teacher shortages in critical areas such as special education; bilingual education; science, technology, engineering, and math; career and technical education; and early childhood education have only been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Pennsylvania Department of Education has reported that shortages in the teacher labor market have expanded over the last decade and more positions in the state are being filled by individuals with emergency permits rather than teaching certifications, and the student-to-teacher ratio has declined substantially since 2013. Even worse, schools serving high proportions of students in poverty or students of color have higher percentages of novice teachers, which “strongly suggests such schools have much greater difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers.”
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees the 14 state universities originally established as “normal schools” devoted to the training of teachers, has reported that “the pipeline of new certified teachers in Pennsylvania has plunged by 67% since 2011.” This is worsened by the projection that “job growth in the Pre-K to 12 education field is anticipated to be 6% by 2030, requiring more than 10,000 additional teachers and educators than Pennsylvania has today.” In testimony before the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee, public officials identified several factors contributing to this decline, including: (1) the cost of in-state tuition has more than tripled over the past thirty years while the wages of teachers have been relatively flat since 1996; (2) interest in and status of the profession has continued to decline among younger generations; (3) preparation and induction experiences vary so greatly that many certified novice teachers feel unprepared for the challenges of leading their own classroom; and (4) many teachers experience stressful and isolating workplace conditions without opportunities for career progression or school-wide input. Their testimony concluded that “as long as these root causes remain unaddressed, we will continue to see declining numbers of highly qualified and diverse teachers entering the profession, with catastrophic consequences for our future students, workforce, and economy.”
Agencies and lawmakers are addressing this shortage with solutions to strengthen the existing teaching force and incentivize new generations to enter the profession nationwide. In 2022, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called on states, higher education leaders and schools to “tap federal resources and work together to address the teacher shortage and aid student recovery.” He asked states and higher education institutions to collaborate by investing in teacher residency programs, expanding loan forgiveness and scholarship programs, increasing teacher compensation, and establishing teaching as a registered apprenticeship, which would allow candidates to earn a wage while earning their certification. To achieve these ends, the Department encouraged the use of the $122 billion allocated by the American Rescue Plan for Elementary and Secondary Education Relief. The Department of Education recognized that certain states have already answered the call. Tennessee was the first state to pursue the Registered Apprenticeship program, with Iowa following suit shortly thereafter. California and New Mexico lawmakers have passed legislation to provide funding for the support of teaching residencies and the recruitment of a more diverse teacher workforce.
Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have also sought to address the teacher shortage. In August 2022, Senator Carolyn Comitta introduced a bill to create the “Grow Our Own Educators Program,” which would provide financial assistance and pathways for educators to support high-need schools in areas with hard-to-staff positions. The program proposes to fund pathway programs which would collaborate with school entities and students to begin secondary coursework in high school. It would also provide financial assistance for those studies, and offer practical experience in high-need schools for a designated amount of time after graduation from high-school. Members of the Democratic Caucus in the Pennsylvania House have outlined a package of bills they call “Elevate Teachers,” which includes efforts to raise the minimum salary for education professionals, create grant programs to support high-need schools, expand programs for paraprofessionals, create loan forgiveness and scholarship programs, and support mentorship programs for first-year teachers in districts with a high turnover.
For its part, the State System of Higher Education in Pennsylvania has asked for funds to provide direct financial relief to education students and enable the Board of Governors to consider freezing in-state tuition for another year. They believe that their plan could “fill nearly a quarter of the state’s teaching shortage.” The funding plan has not been approved, though the House Education Committee held a public hearing on April 12, 2023 on the causes and solutions to the teacher shortage.
Teaching is often viewed as a vocation because the profession demands individuals with the compassion to inspire and guide students. However, education is a fundamental pillar of society, and it requires a well-staffed workforce of qualified teachers who must be incentivized by more than a personal drive to make an impact. The profession faces a set of obstacles in recruitment and the maintenance of teachers nationwide. We can be encouraged by the early momentum of national and state institutions to offer solutions, but this is a far-reaching problem which requires a commitment to long-term solutions.
 Sasha Jones, George Lucas, Venus Williams, Stephen Colbert – and the Teachers Who Inspired Them, Education Week (May 7, 2018), https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/george-lucas-venus-williams-stephen-colbert-and-the-teachers-who-inspired-them/2018/05.
 Chelsea Ritschel, Bill Gates Reflects on the Teachers Who Inspired Him the Most and Thanks Educators for ‘Changing Lives,’ Independent (August 14, 2020), https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/bill-gates-teacher-educators-blanche-caffiere-a9686156.html
 School Dist. of Wilkinsburg v. Educ. Ass’n, 542 Pa. 335, 342 (1995).
 U.S. Schools Report Increased Teacher Vacancies Due to COVID-19 Pandemic, New NCES Data Show, National Center for Education Statistics (March 3, 2022), https://nces.ed.gov/whatsnew/press_releases/3_3_2022.asp.
 Fact Sheet: The U.S. Department of Education Announces Partnerships Across States, School Districts, and Colleges of Education to Meet Secretary Cardona’s Call to Action to Address the Teacher Shortage, US Dept. of Ed., https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus/factsheets/teacher-shortage(Last Accessed April 17, 2023). See also Using American Rescue Plan Funds and Other Federal Resources to Address Teacher Shortages, U.S. Dept. of Ed., https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/arp-teacher-shortages.pdf.
 Ed Fuller, Pennsylvania Teacher Staffing Challenges, 6-8 (Fall 2022), https://ed.psu.edu/sites/default/files/inline-files/CEEPA_report_V2.pdf
 Id. at 16.
 PASSHE’s Plan to Address Pennsylvania’s Teacher Shortage, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (February 27, 2023), https://www.passhe.edu/News/Pages/Releases.aspx?q=2023-2-27-pa-teacher-shortage#:~:text=Job%20growth%20in%20the%20Pre,fewer%20candidates%20to%20fill%20jobs.
 Testimony of Zakiya Stewart, Amy Morton, Laura Boyce, & Jason Dougal on Behalf of Teach Plus & The National Center on Education & The Economy Before the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee, 2-3 (February 28, 2023), https://education.pasenategop.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/130/2023/02/PANeedsTeachers-Testimony-Senate-Education-Committee-Hearing-on-Teacher-Shortages.pdf.
 U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Calls on States, Districts, Higher Ed Institutions to Address Nationwide Teacher Shortage and Bolster Student Recovery with American Rescue Plan Funds, U.S. Dept. of Ed. (March 28, 2022), https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-education-secretary-miguel-cardona-calls-states-districts-higher-ed-institutions-address-nationwide-teacher-shortage-and-bolster-student-recovery-american-rescue-plan-funds.
 Addressing the Teacher Shortage with American Rescue Plan Funds, U.S. Dept. of Ed., https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/teacher-shortage.pdf.
 FACT SHEET: The U.S. Department of Education Announces Partnerships Across States, School Districts, and Colleges of Education to Meet Secretary Cardona’s Call to Action to Address the Teacher Shortage; See also Brian Blackley, APSU Now Offers First Registered Apprenticeship Program for Teaching in the Country, Austin Peay State University, https://www.apsu.edu/news/january-2022-grow-your-own.php (Last Accessed April 17, 2023); Press Release: Gov. Reynolds Launches New Teacher and Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship (January 12, 2022), https://governor.iowa.gov/press-release/2022-01-12/gov-reynolds-launches-new-teacher-and-paraeducator-registered.
 PA SB No. 1316 (August 24, 2022), https://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2021&sessInd=0&billBody=S&billTyp=B&billNbr=1316&pn=1878.
 Representative Patty Kim, “Elevating Educators,” https://www.pahouse.com/Kim/elevatingeducators (accessed April 17, 2023).
 PASSHE’s Plan to Address Pennsylvania’s Teacher Shortage, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (February 27, 2023), https://www.passhe.edu/News/Pages/Releases.aspx?q=2023-2-27-pa-teacher-shortage#:~:text=Job%20growth%20in%20the%20Pre,fewer%20candidates%20to%20fill%20jobs
 PASSHE Highlights Financial Aid Proposal to Address Teacher Shortages, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (April 12, 2023), https://www.passhe.edu/News/Pages/Releases.aspx?q=2022-4-12-passhe-highlights-financial-aid-proposal-to-address-teacher-shortages.
 Jan Murphy, As Fewer Teachers Come Out of Pa. Colleges, Lawmakers Explore Ways to Reverse Trend (April 13, 2023), https://www.pennlive.com/education/2023/04/as-fewer-teachers-come-out-of-pa-colleges-lawmakers-explore-ways-to-reverse-trend.html.