Only 4% of Pennsylvania educators are people of color, compared with 29% of students.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Reducing student loan debt, hiring more teachers of color and increasing school support staff are top priorities for educators this year.
The Keystone State has a growing teacher shortage. Since 2012 the number of Level I instructional certificates issued in Pennsylvania has dropped by 74%.
According to Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the combination of low starting pay and an average of $37,000 student loan debt, the second highest in the nation, makes teaching a really tough career choice for new graduates. He’s urging policymakers to create a student loan forgiveness program for educators.
“They’re struggling,” he states. “They’re getting another job, another two jobs. And that affects what’s going on in the classroom when our great teachers cannot give all their focus to their main job.”
Askey adds the state also has a critical shortage of school nurses, counselors and teaching assistants, and a disproportionately low ratio of educators who are people of color.
Askey points out that, even though 29% of students in Pennsylvania are people of color, only 4% of educators are, one of the lowest rates in the country.
“That’s not fair,” he stresses. “It’s not giving our kids the best opportunities, and all the research shows that our young people do better when they have a diverse staff that’s teaching them.”
PSEA wants to make finding creative ways to attract people of color to education professions a priority.
Askey notes that the teacher shortage also has increased the need for teaching assistants. And while school safety and student wellness are priorities, there is an ongoing shortage of school nurses and counselors.
“Right now, we have one school nurse for every 1,500 students,” he states. “I can’t imagine serving 1,500 students as a nurse. And there’s no requirement for counselors, psychologists or social workers.”
PSEA also is calling for an increase in minimum educator salary from $18, 500 to $45,000 a year. The minimum salary hasn’t been increased since 1988.