(WHTM) — Pennsylvania needs teachers — everyone agrees on that. However, not everyone who wants to be an educator is allowed to be. A new bill in the state legislature would change that in a major way.
Senator Judy Schwank, a Democrat from Berks County, is pushing a bill to allow immigrants to get certified as teachers in Pennsylvania. She has worked on the issue before, with little success, but she hopes this time around, it has a chance.
“The heart of my district is the city of Reading, is 70 percent Latino,” Schwank said.
Schwank explained that her diverse district and the work she has done there have given her a connection with undocumented students.
“There’s so many of them that have just dreams of being successful in this country, and many of them want to be educators as well,” she said.
Schwank wants to help them. Right now, the Pennsylvania Department of Education does not allow immigrants to be certified in the state, except in some specific circumstances.
“They are not given the opportunity to teach,” Schwank said.
Schwank is sponsoring a bill that would allow people authorized to work in the U.S. to be certified as teachers in Pennsylvania. That includes participants in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, the Obama-era program which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to attend college and work.
“As well as students who may be missed the entry into the DACA program, but yet have been raised here, have gone to school,” Schwank added.
The Commonwealth is also facing a teacher shortage. State-issued certifications have dropped by 70 percent in the last decade. Schwank said her bill is part of the solution.
“Why would we not want to have them enter our workforce, and be a part of helping to move the Commonwealth forward?” she said.
It would also bring more diversity to the field.
“There are so many kids that look just like [them] that are going to those schools, and they need to see a teacher that looks like them. We know that we need to be able to have more diversity among our educator workforce so that better reflects the communities that they’re serving,” Schwank said.
Schwank admitted this bill is a tough sell in the Senate.
“If you’re talking about undocumented individuals or immigration, it just doesn’t get off the ground,” she said.
However, some school districts think this could help struggling students.
“tamara wilis, susquehanna township superintendent “”Our learners need teachers. They need qualified teachers,” Susquehanna Township School District Superintendent Tamara Willis said.
Willis said students are negatively impacted by the teacher shortage, and if this bill gets more teachers in the classroom, bring it on.
“We need to consider all options when it comes to staffing our classrooms,” she said.
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Schwank said she is hopeful that the current circumstances could give her bill a chance.
“Now that we are seeing this critical teacher shortage, and everybody is so aware of it, that this might be an idea whose time has come,” she said.
abc27 reached out to Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman and Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward for comment on the bill. Neither was available for an interview, or provided a written statement.