HARRISBURG, Pa. (WENY) - Today, teachers and advocates from across Pennsylvania called on lawmakers to address three legislative priorities in this year’s budget. With the Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget deadline at the end of the month, advocates say the timing is crucial. 

“We’re in the midst of the worst teacher shortage crisis the commonwealth has ever seen,” said Laura Boyce, Executive Director of Teach Plus Pennsylvania. "We are calling on Governor Shapiro and House and Senate leaders to invest $100 million into our educator workforce this budget and to support our three legislative priorities: paid student teaching, growing your own funding, and plugging the data hole,” Boyce added. 

Advocates and researchers said today that roughly 10,000 teachers have quit in the past school year. They say it’s only going to get worse if action is not taken in this year’s budget. 

“We have a crisis in ensuring we have enough educators to serve the needs of our children in the Commonwealth,” said Dr. Ed Fuller, an Associate Professor in the College of Education at Penn State University. “The number of people entering teaching has declined by 67 percent since 2010, and last year, we had the lowest number of people become teachers in the last 15 years. We also have seen our teacher attrition rate increase from about five percent a few years ago to nearly eight percent this year,” Dr. Fuller added. 

Advocates say legislation to provide stipends for student teachers, like Hallie Sill, will remove a significant barrier for young people entering the teaching profession. Student teachers have to complete an unpaid, 12-week student teaching program. Sill says with gas prices, travel and tuition costs, it’s hard to meet basic needs. 

“It’s basically like an unpaid internship,” said Sill. “Not only would paid student teaching be beneficial for the wellness of incoming teachers and the future generation, but it would also display the message that as a student teacher, your job is important,” Sill added. 

State Senators Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) and Vincent Hughes (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) agree with Sill. That’s why they sponsored bipartisan legislation, Senate Bill 300, to establish a student teacher stipend program.  

“There is no compensation. There is no payment. People are doing it for the love of their profession,” said Sen. Hughes. 

“If we are truly going to attract the best and brightest, as we should to the teaching profession, we must remove the financial barriers wherever and whenever possible,” said Sen. Aument. 

SB 300 would also incentivize student teachers to teach in high-vacancy districts. 

“Senate Bill 300 offers an additional stipend for students who do their student teaching in districts that have traditionally been unable to attract student teachers,” said Aument. 

Passing legislation for "Grow Your Own" programs is another important priority. Advocates say the implementation would help communities build a pipeline of teachers for their classrooms through various partnerships. 

“Grow Your Own programs help create a more diverse and culturally competent teacher workforce,” said Leon Smith, a teacher and a Teach Plus Fellow. 

“I have to believe that the investments we make here can and will make a major difference in addressing this teacher shortage,” said Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D- Lehigh), the sponsor of House Bill 141, which would establish the Grow-Your-Own Educators Grant Program and Grow-Your-Own Educator career pathways. 

The third priority for advocates is what they call “plugging the data hole.” The state is not required to collect data on teacher vacancies, which makes it very difficult to address the shortage. 

“We need legislation that requires the state to collect data on teacher vacancies. Right now, we can't even say how many teacher vacancies exist across Pennsylvania, where they are, and what subjects they're in,” said Tim Crane, a teacher at Camp Hill High School. 

Advocates hope bills in both chambers to address all three priorities are a part of the final budget and become law once all is said and done in a few weeks.