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Pennsylvania lawmakers, educators look for ways to fix teacher shortage

Amid teacher shortage, efforts to improve student-teaching in Pennsylvania
Amid teacher shortage, efforts to improve student-teaching in Pennsylvania 02:21

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was a simple message from State Sen. Vincent Hughes on Monday morning at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber in West Philadelphia.

"We need more teachers. There's no more important job in our life than a teacher," Hughes said.

But it's also a complex problem to solve.

Pennsylvania, like many other states around the country, is facing a serious teacher shortage. A Penn State study found the state saw its highest teacher attrition rate since at least 2014 last year, with 7.7% of teachers leaving their jobs.

"In 2023, we came close to losing almost 10,000 teachers," State Sen. Jimmy Dillon said.

And fewer teachers are there to fill the losses. State leaders on Monday reported that between 2011 and 2022, Pennsylvania saw its number of teacher certifications issued fall by 71%.

After the State Supreme Court last year called Pennsylvania's education funding system unconstitutional, Gov. Josh Shapiro pitched an additional $1.1 billion in education funding in this year's state budget proposal. But lawmakers say money is only half the battle.

"To make that work, we need more teachers," Hughes said.

But lawmakers also touted some recent examples of their work to get teachers back into the classroom. Hughes highlighted the $10 million Student Teacher Stipend Program. Student teaching is traditionally an unpaid requirement for prospective teachers, which can force students to quit part-time jobs or miss out on studies. 

Melody Dorsainvil, an early childhood education major at Temple University, detailed some of the challenges she's faced.

"From tuition to books to transportation, there were very few days which I wasn't anxious about how I would be able to keep going," Dorsainvil said. "Particularly, after a family emergency last semester, I wasn't sure I'd be able to afford student teaching this year."

This program would provide people like Dorsainvil up to $10,000 while they're completing their student teaching, all in an effort to ease that financial burden.

SLA Beeber is also trying to fill the teacher pipeline by getting kids interested in the profession even earlier.

"SLA Beeber is the first school to have this teacher pipeline academy," said Gina Dukes, who teaches the Teacher Academy.

Leaders say it's a class students can start as freshmen to get introduced to teaching and learn about the profession and its importance. As the students age, they get first-hand experience while still in high school.

"Our 11th grade year are teaching classes. They have done many lesson plans, wrote unit plans," Njemele Anderson, a teacher at SLA Beeber, said.

Sen. Hughes said there's more conversations that need to happen in Harrisburg to entice teachers. He pointed to pay raises, sign-on bonuses and grants for students who want to get into teaching. He also believes there's incentive for both sides of the aisle to act.

"This is not just an urban issue. This is not a Democratic issue. Many rural school districts in Pennsylvania have a significant problem of not having enough teachers," Hughes said.

But teachers say there are some things that also need to change that money can't buy.

"The perception of teaching has to change in our national landscape to inspire students, like, this is fun, you can make a difference," Dukes said.

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