HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania state lawmakers are setting their sights on the teacher shortage. A group of representatives plans to introduce a package of bills to reverse what they call a crisis.
The package of six bills, called Elevating Educators, is led by Midstate Rep. Patty Kim, who represents Dauphin and Cumberland Counties.
“We need to make bold steps to fix the systemic problem Tweaks and Band-Aids won’t work,” Rep. Kim said.
Educators in her district said this is a good start, but the issue will not be fixed overnight.
“The teaching shortage has impacted the Harrisburg School District in a more dramatic way than some of the other school districts,” Travis Waters, Harrisburg School District’s chief recovery officer, said.
Waters said this issue does not have a quick solution.
“I think it will get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Still, he said the legislation holds promise. One bill would offer grants to keep teachers in their own communities.
“It’s great to have folks from those communities to come into the school districts and teach because they understand the community, they understand the students,” he said.
Waters said the bill would also add more diversity to the workforce.
“Pennsylvania is below the national average when you talk about Black and brown teachers,” he said.
Another bill, proposed by Rep. Kim, would raise K-12 teachers’ minimum salary first to $50,000 and then gradually to $60,000. Also includes is a $20 hourly raise for support staff. Rep. Kim said the salary boost would impact over 15,000 educators.
“For many of us, it’s not just that we necessarily don’t even stay in the career, it’s that we can’t even afford to join the career in the first place,” Camp Hill English teacher Tim Crane said.
Crane said salary is not the issue in his district, but he has still seen colleagues leave the profession.
“We’re seeing it in a district that is still as successful and is doing well as Camp Hill, which again, begs the question for us, how bad is it in other places?” he said.
Two of the bills offer scholarships for college students studying to be teachers and loan forgiveness for practicing teachers, in exchange for a commitment to working in the Commonwealth for a certain number of years. Crane said that would have helped him.
“That would have let me do things like buy a home sooner, start a family sooner,” he said.
Waters said these bills are a good start, but there are other challenges educators face that cannot be solved with legislation.
“Not just teachers, but principals and superintendents feel like they’re under attack,” he said.
Waters said in the last few years, schools have become a political battleground and teachers are no longer treated with respect.
“Education has become a political football,” he said. “People do not get into education for politics. People get into education because they want to make a difference in their communities, they want to make a difference in the lives of students.”
Still, Waters calls it an “honorable profession.” He and Crane say giving teachers the support they need allows them to better serve students.
“That also means that students are going to get the consistent supports that they need which prepares them to be the best people they can be, and that’s what we’re aiming for,” Crane said.
The other bill included package would create a grant program to support colleges expanding their teaching programs. Lawmakers said they hope to see strong bipartisan support, and some House lawmakers are working with senators on similar initiatives to put forward in the Senate.