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May 26, 2023

Pennsylvania student teachers could receive $10,000 stipend under proposed law

The bipartisan measure aims to fix the state's ongoing educator shortage

Education Government
Student Teacher Stipend Taylor Flowe/Unsplash

Pennsylvania's student teachers would be eligible to receive a $10,000 stipend to complete their 12-week classroom requirements under a bipartisan proposal aimed at combatting the state's ongoing teacher shortage.

A proposal from Pennsylvania state lawmakers aims to combat the ongoing teacher shortage. 

The bill — introduced by Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Democrat from Philadelphia, and Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican from Lancaster County — would give $10,000 stipends to students enrolled in teacher preparation programs at any Pennsylvania college or university. An additional $5,000 stipend would be offered to student teachers who complete their required teaching program in a school that traditionally doesn't have student teachers, or has high teacher vacancies. Stipends would be distributed through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which provides state-level student grants.

$1,000 would be offered to certified teachers who agree to mentor students while they complete their student teaching requirements.

The proposal aims to support urban and rural schools and districts alike, many of which have been forced to overcrowd classrooms, eliminate personalized instruction and offer fewer course options due to the impacts of the teacher shortage, Aument said.

Pennsylvania's student teaching program is unpaid and lasts 12 weeks, with student teachers often in the classroom for as long as full-time, salaried teachers. This can cause financial strain for student teachers, who are often forced to quit their regular day jobs or work additional paid jobs after spending an entire day teaching.

"It's way past time Pennsylvania starts walking the walk when it comes to supporting and cultivating future teachers," said Hughes. "Our current system puts a financial burden on prospective teachers and in turn we're seeing many individuals who would be great teachers turn to other professions. We need to act now to reduce this financial burden for future teachers to improve the quality and diversity of our teacher pipeline. Further inaction will only harm the future of our students." 

A report published in February by a coalition of education advocates found that the number of teachers being certified each year fell from 20,000 in 2010 to fewer than 7,000 in 2020. The report found that, as the price of college continues to rise and the starting salary for teachers remains stagnant, interest in teaching and the desire to enter the profession has declined. 

The teacher shortage is expected to persist over time, as there has been a substantial decline in all subject areas, according to a report published by Penn State University and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, shortages of teachers and bus drivers led the school district to implement daily bonuses for substitute teachers and nurses, urging experienced educators and workers to come back to the classroom. 

This is not the first time state officials have attempted to reverse the teacher shortage and entice people into the field. Education advocates have proposed increasing financial incentives, while Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Educator Association, has called for a $60,000 minimum teacher salary

As part of his first budget address, Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a $2,500 tax credit each year for three years for newly certified teachers. Hughes said that the legislation would "complement" Shapiro's proposal, the Inquirer reported. 

"Individuals often have to quit their part-time or full-time jobs to be able to complete their student teaching obligations," said Sherri Smith, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. "This becomes a barrier for some as it is just not feasible for them to give up their paycheck to complete their student teaching obligations. That's why looking for a way to provide stipends to our student teachers is a critical step to fixing our current impaired educator workforce pipeline." 

In 2021, Oklahoma became the first state to pay its student teachers using $12.75 million in federal relief funding from the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides up to $3,250 payments to 1,300 eligible student teachers. Last year, Colorado and some parts of Nebraska followed suit, providing stipends of up to $22,000 and $9,000 for student teaching, respectively. 

Earlier this year, Michigan's effort to combat its teacher shortage resulted in the Future Educator Stipend, which provides up to $9,600 per semester to student teachers. The effort aims to help student teachers cover tuition and living costs while finishing their education programs. The program only provides stipends based on financial need, Midland Daily News reported. 

In July, Pennsylvania's Department of Education released a three-year strategic plan aimed at reversing the teacher shortage. As the state will need thousands of teachers by 2025, officials are hoping to diversify the educator workforce and address school needs in order to better reflect the growing demographic changes in the state. 

As part of its plan, state officials hope to meet the staffing needs of every school by streamlining the teacher certification process, ensuring high-quality professional development and beginning programs for high school students to prepare them for careers in education. 

The bill, which already has support from 13 Democrats and five Republicans, has been sent to the Senate Education Committee for consideration and a possible vote.