As lawmakers grapple with a drastic decline in the number of new teachers certified in Pennsylvania, a state House panel approved legislation that would ease financial burdens for student teachers.
The House Education Committee voted 20-1 on Tuesday to send the full chamber a bill providing up to $15,000 as a stipend for student teachers and $2,500 for teachers who serve as mentors to aspiring educators.
State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the committee that student teachers must often leave other employment to do the semester-long mandatory student teaching assignments required to receive a teacher’s certification.
During that time, they still have living expenses, tuition and other bills to pay, Otten said.
“It’s really hard to maintain a part time job while you’re student teaching,” Otten said. “So this bill would help us to get our student teachers to the finish line by giving them financial support.”
The financial burden of student teaching contributes to the declining popularity of teaching as a profession, Friel Otten said. The number of teaching certificates issued in Pennsylvania dropped from 21,000 in 2010-11 to 4,220 in the 2021-22 school year, according to an analysis released in April.
In order to receive the stipend as a grant from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, new teachers would be required to commit to working in a Pennsylvania school for two years after graduation.
Faced with the increased challenges of teaching, many teachers are reluctant to take on the additional responsibilities of mentoring student teachers. The stipend for mentors would provide an incentive to help students earn their certification, Friel Otten said.
While the base amount of the stipends would be $10,000, students who do their internships in disadvantaged school districts where there is a deficit in new teacher recruitment would receive an additional $5,000.
Also on Tuesday, the Education Committee approved bills that would make it easier for students who earn credits at a Pennsylvania community college to transfer those credits to a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education university.
Rep. Emily Kinkead, D-Allegheny, said transferring community college credits to a state university is often difficult because the PASSHE schools have a patchwork of agreements with different colleges.
The Education Committee also approved Senate Bill 84, which protects teachers’ rights to religious freedom by removing penalties that include a one-year suspension or termination for wearing religious symbols or garb.
“For a state founded for religious freedom, this is unfair to teachers and we need to fix it,” Education Committee Chairperson Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, said.
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