Gov. Wolf signs bipartisan bill to ease teacher shortage applauded by union, school administrators


SILVER SPRING TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) — School districts across Pennsylvania are struggling to find substitute teachers, including many in the Midstate.

A bipartisan effort at the state capitol could be a big help.

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“We’re seeing more need for us to actually pull kids together, maybe put them into an auditorium because we’re just short-staffed and actually monitored numerous classrooms at the same time, by a smaller number of teachers,” said Dr. David Christopher, superintendent of Cumberland Valley School District.

Christopher says teacher absences have increased.

“If you have COVID-19, or someone your household has COVID-19, you might be two weeks, three weeks, but historically we didn’t have to fill positions that long and that creates a lot of challenge, I think.

Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) says many teachers are burning out.

“The fact that they don’t get a break during the day, they don’t get time to do their planning,” Askey said. “I’ve had teachers that come to me and say they don’t even get a bathroom break during the day the way things are right now.”

One thing that would help is House Bill 412, which overwhelmingly passed in both the state House and Senate on Wednesday, Dec. 15. Christopher worked with state Rep. Barb Gleim on it even before the pandemic.

“I think the bill would have a really big impact for school districts because it’s gonna allow you to pull in retirees without the fear of losing their pension, which has been one of the biggest challenges,” Christopher said.

Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill on Friday, Dec. 17.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned how critical in-classroom education is for our K-12 students,” said Gov. Wolf. “I am proud to sign this legislation which allows schools the short-term flexibility to ensure children can safely learn in person where we know is best for them and their futures.”

It would also allow educators with inactive certificates and day-to-day subs to work more days in school.

“There’s always been a slight substitute shortage I would say, but I believe the pandemic has really inflated it to the point where it has become a crisis now,” Askey said.

Even soon-to-be college graduates who’ve completed their exams but haven’t gotten a diploma could fill in.

“Anything we can do to increase the number of substitutes in the pool will be really helpful,” Christopher said. “And I think for our student teachers, to allow them to maybe get into classrooms to actually be paid for some of the work that they’re able to do. It might be helpful for us as well.”

Administrators hope this is the first step in solving the staffing crisis.

Askey thinks raising substitute wages could help too, but Christopher says this year CV raised substitute pay 25% and it didn’t increase the number of people in the pool.

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