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Some local educators are encouraged that proposed state legislation can be helpful in offsetting any teacher shortage they may be facing or could face in the future.

Senate Bill 224, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, and Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria County, simplifies the process for out-of-state teachers to obtain certification in Pennsylvania. The bill received unanimous support from the state Senate Monday.

“Anything we can do to recruit more people into the classroom, I’m in favor of,” said Dr. Edward Zelich, superintendent of the Charleroi Area School District. “I commend Sen. Bartolotta and her team. It is a huge issue.”

A dwindling number of certified teachers, coupled with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, has raised concerns about the capability of school districts to appropriately staff instructional positions.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the number of newly issued in-state instructional teaching certificates has dropped by 66% since 2010.

“The current teacher certification system creates a huge barrier for new state residents who want to share their talents and knowledge with the leaders of tomorrow, yet our schools are in dire need of experienced teachers,” Bartolotta said. “This bill would provide a pathway to permit new residents who have experience to fill that need.”

Dr. Gary Peiffer, superintendent of the Chartiers-Houston School District, said the district is not facing a teacher shortage as of now.

“But it is a concern that we have more people that will be set to retire in the near future,” he said.

Dr. Jennifer Murphy, deputy superintendent of the Peters Township School District, said there is not a problem currently with contracted positions, but there has been a decline in applications.

“We would get double-digit applications, even for long-term sub positions; now we’re getting single-digit applications,” she said. “For a posting, we would get upwards of 50 applications; now it’s single digits. Positions such as science and math can be harder to fill, but we haven’t felt it to the point where we haven’t been able to put anyone in the position.

Murphy added that the biggest impact felt is with day-to-day substitute teachers.

“We have very few day-to-day substitute teachers,” Murphy said. “This creates vacancies where others have had to step into a classroom to ensure students are being educated and supervised.”

Senate Bill 224 would allow an out-of-state candidate who has completed any state-approved educator preparation program (including field placement/student teaching) from an accredited institution of higher learning to be eligible for a comparable in-state instructional certification.

The bill also would require the Pennsylvania Department of Education to recognize and accept out-of-state candidates’ qualifying scores on equivalent content tests toward PDE’s testing and certification requirements.

The bill would grant Pennsylvania certification to any candidate who holds a valid certificate issued by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the most respected professional certification available in K-12 certification.

“I think we all are (facing a shortage),” Zelich said. “It’s terrible right now. We’re 15 substitute teachers short. There are some substitute teachers available, but we’re all competing for the same ones. We’re all fishing from the same pond. It’s been a challenge.”

Yelich said the district recently increased its substitute teacher pay to $120 a day in an effort to recruit more people to those posts.

Dr. Rebecca Maddas, an associate professor at California University of Pennsylvania who serves as student teaching supervisor, has been in contact with colleagues in other parts of the country who are facing similar woes.

“We actually started seeing that prior to the pandemic,” Maddas said. “They are having a hard time finding substitutes. It’s not just a local thing. Administrators are filling in for teachers. Teachers are giving up prep periods to substitute for colleagues who can’t be there.”

There also is a decline in student teachers. Maddas said that has been seen at Cal U. since 2010. A typical semester had student teachers numbering in the hundreds. Maddas said there might be 75 currently in a good semester.

She cites a variety of reasons that the profession is not seen as desirable as it once may have been. Money is a large factor, but also burnout suffered by teachers.

“A lot is put on teachers’ plates,” Maddas said. “Because of the pandemic, they’re not just teaching in person, but they’re having to use online programs that are coming down the pike. They’re having to deal with social and emotional issues. They’re expected to be counselors.”

She also said attrition is contributing to the teacher shortage, as more teachers are leaving the profession than are entering it, plus she sees many substitute teachers willing to move out of state for jobs.

Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, is among those who supported the bill, stressing the importance of having enough qualified teachers available in Pennsylvania schools.

“As someone whose parents were both teachers, I understand the importance of having educators who are truly dedicated to the next generation,” Stefano said. “We need to attract the best and brightest for the benefit of our students, especially since many of them are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic and its closures had on their education.”

In Peiffer’s mind, anything that brings more quality teachers to the commonwealth is a plus.

“I always think it’s good to attract talent if you can bring them here,” he said. “Anyway we can attract talent to our region and our state to improve our school system is a good idea.”

Murphy agrees.

“I think anything we can do to help districts that are struggling will be appreciated,” Murphy said. “I like that (the teaching candidates) have gone through some sort of a certification process. That will be helpful to districts that have challenges filling those positions.”

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