Minimum pay raise for teachers would boost interest in education careers, Pa. House lawmakers say

‘We’re losing teachers at an alarming rate that are certified, qualified, and experienced doing great things for kids,’ East Pennsboro Area Superintendent Mike Robinson said

By: - March 6, 2023 3:53 pm

Pennsylvania state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, speaks at a news conference Tuesday, March 6, 2023, where she and other House lawmakers proposed legislation to address the state’s teacher shortage. (Capitol-Star photo by Peter Hall)

More than 15,000 Pennsylvania teachers would get a pay raise under legislation to gradually raise the minimum salary for educators statewide to $60,000, which is designed to counter a shortage of educators by making the profession more attractive.

The legislation sponsored by state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, is part of a slate of proposals by Pennsylvania House lawmakers designed to address a shortage of new teachers by improving the financial prospects of an education career, and by reducing the barriers to teacher certification.

The number of teaching certificates issued in Pennsylvania has declined from more than 21,000 in 2010-11 to about 7,000 in 2019-20, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Citing a report titled “#PANeedsTeachers” by the teacher training and policy organization Teach Plus and the National Center on Education and the Economy, Kim said teacher shortages and turnover have a range of negative effects on education – including lower performance by students. Vulnerable students are at greater risk for adverse impacts..

“We as lawmakers acknowledged the crisis and are working to support current teachers creating a wider path for individuals entering the profession and establishing a competitive teacher salary,” Kim said Monday at a news conference to introduce the proposals.

Mike Robinson, superintendent of the East Pennsboro Area School District in Cumberland County, said the teacher shortage is a problem schools face on a daily basis and there’s no time to wait.

“We cannot forget about the people that are currently in the trenches. We’re losing teachers at an alarming rate that are certified, qualified, and experienced doing great things for kids,” Robinson said.

At the same time school districts are struggling to fund their budgets without placing an additional burden on taxpayers, Robinson said.

“We don’t want to have to make critical cuts,” Robinson continued. “Our kids need extracurriculars. Our kids need extra programming. Our kids need the best and brightest coming out of college. And the only way to do that is to make education a priority immediately.”

Kim said her legislation would set the minimum salary for teachers at $50,000 immediately with $2,500 increases until it reaches $60,000. It would also establish a minimum wage for support staff such as aides and bus drivers at $20 per hour. The increases are in line with salaries offered in other states that have raised their minimum salaries for teachers. 

The minimum teacher’s salary set by the Pennsylvania Public School Code is $18,500, Kim noted. According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, there are seven school districts with minimum salaries of less than $30,000.

Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, noted that according to the University of Pennsylvania, urban and rural school districts are hardest hit by teacher turnover. He said one of the most effective ways for those districts to address staffing shortages is to encourage high school students to become support staff and teachers. Schlossberg represents the Allentown School District, which is among the poorest and largest urban districts in the state.

“If you do a program like this right you can address diversity issues, shortage issues, and create a pipeline where you actually get paraprofessionals and teachers to educate students in the school district that they come from,” Schlossberg said.

Schlossberg said he plans to introduce legislation that would provide financial assistance and create pathways for students to become educators.

Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, said he plans to reintroduce legislation that would create a scholarship program for eligible students studying to become teachers at Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities. 

The students could receive $8,000 a year in tuition assistance, up to $32,000 with the condition that they must teach in Pennsylvania for one year for each year that they received the scholarship, or be required to repay the money. 

Funding for the program would come from federal pandemic assistance money that remains unspent, Rozzi said.

“These funds are sitting in the rainy day fund,” Rozzi said, referring to the state’s emergency savings account. “Well, for our teachers, it’s pouring and our educators are drowning.”

Other bills proposed to bolster the number of people entering the teaching profession include:  

  • Legislation to provide grants for support staff to earn teaching certificates sponsored by Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Cambria, 
  • A bill giving first-year teachers in districts with high turnover additional support, including a mentor, co-sponsored by Reps. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, and Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, 
  • And a bill providing up to $40,000 in student loan forgiveness for teachers who serve in a Pennsylvania school for at least four years sponsored by Rep. Regina Young, D-Philadelphia.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.