Instead of throwing more money at teachers, shouldn’t we figure out why so many are leaving in the first place? 

June 17 – The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) has lobbied the General Assembly for an additional $45 million for the student teacher stipend program. 

The program began this spring and it immediately filled up. There wasn’t enough money to satisfy the number of requests. 

The program pays $10,000 to $15,000 to student teachers while they’re student teaching. 

Apparently $45 million would satisfy all the requests that came in. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “PHEAA is again citing the nearly two thirds drop in new teacher certifications being issued in Pennsylvania over the last 10 years, and that number keeps declining. It’s a real problem.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM asked, “Is anybody asking why? All right, got it. Here’s the dough. But why don’t you take some of that research money instead of researching cow farts, why don’t we figure out what’s the answer? Why? Why don’t you do some focus groups?”

Barkdoll said, “We all know this is a crisis. It’s the train coming down the track, and the question you’re asking is where this focus should be. Just for example, if you look at this statement from PHEAA yesterday, in 2011 there were over 17,000 new teacher certifications issued in Pennsylvania. By 2022 that number was down to 5,000 and now in 2024 it’s dropping even more, and this is on top of there being thousands of vacant teaching positions in Pennsylvania. I mean, this truly is a problem, but no one seems to be addressing what you’re asking. I mean, this idea we’ll just keep throwing money at, that’s not the sole reason that all of these people are fleeing that job. There’s a lot of other things going on, but I don’t feel like any of those other issues are being addressed.”

Ryan continued, “In fact, you don’t even have to spend the money on a focus group. We’ve seen the pictures. We’ve heard the kids’ stories here. In fact, I was talking to a treasured friend yesterday on the radio station who said that a family member was going into elementary education. I said, why? (The person) wanted to teach in inner city schools. Are you kidding me? Why would you want to do that and put your life at risk? We already know what’s happening there. I don’t need that. So they’re not going to address it. We’re just going to bribe people to go into it, and then they’ll walk away from it.” 

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “Is that the best reason we want a teacher? Oh, because you have your price, and I finally met it, and you’ll go do this. Oh, no. We thought they’re the ones dedicated to children – and there is that passion. What we’re ignoring is the 19 reasons ahead of money, or maybe even more, that are making teaching miserable. One of the biggest things I keep hearing from teachers, especially public school teachers, is kids’ behavior. We are not addressing all the things that are making kids miserable and making them not respect adults. We’re taking away authority. We’re calling them educators instead of teachers. We are saying, oh, the kids have to lead the curriculum and the kids peer to peer. No. Kids are dumb, especially in the lower grades. They don’t have the bandwidth to be doing stuff like that. They need teachers, good teachers, to guide them. They need that authority restored. They need that respect for teachers restored and we need to get rid of all these things affecting their behavior, like the smartphones in school, like parents taking control of their kids’ lives anymore and allowing them, not micromanaging, but going back to good parenting. There’s just so many reasons that are ahead of money that are the reason for this.”

Barkdoll confirmed, “I hear that all the time too, from teachers and people in the public schools, that the behavioral issues, the lack of discipline at home, just this ever expanding portfolio that the public schools are expected to accommodate and in a job market like this, the teachers can say, well, hey, we’re out of here. We’re going elsewhere, and they can easily land somewhere else. But I still think long term, the General Assembly, and there’s been some nibbling around the edges, they’ve loosened certification requirements. You can wave in now more easily from other states. There’s these reciprocity programs, but when you see certification licenses dropping by a factor of two thirds, or 75%, over 10 years and on top of thousands of existing vacancies, there is a major problem brewing in Pennsylvania, and it’s probably going to get worse.”

PA State Representative Paul Schemel said, “Any employer is going to tell you they have the same issue today, whether you’re an architect or you’re running a warehouse, no one can find enough qualified applicants and teaching, that’s not unique to that, but there are some things in education that are making that particularly problematic, and it’s not necessarily a funding problem. No one thinks they make as much as they should. Teachers are pretty well compensated in Pennsylvania. I’m sure they would argue they should be better compensated. They’re pretty well compensated. But challenges that I hear from teachers are things like disciplinary issues, problems with the way things are handled in people’s homes that then come over into the schools. Those are societal problems, not so much education or funding problems.”

Jansen said, “We don’t treat education like we should, like it’s a very precious profession that we know is educating our children. Why? Why is the education program, though, the one that some person goes to when they failed two other programs in college? Why? And why do we want to cut down on the authority that teachers have right now in schools? We’re calling them educators instead of teachers. We’re telling them, well, the students need to run the programs or curriculum. No, they don’t. We’re eliminating, as we are with police and other adults in our society, ruining kids’ idea that there is respectful authority. Then we try to band-aid in the end by just giving more money or saying, well, let’s lower standards to bring people in. Lowering standards, really? We may not be in a crisis compared to other states. We’re not churning out geniuses.”

Ryan insisted, “When you lower standards, just what you said, you lower standards, alright, let’s lower the bail standards, and let’s let everybody out and then you see the result of society.”

Schemel said, “I can’t speak, I’m not that well educated, if that’s the right word on what the standards should be for teachers. There definitely are some requirements for getting a teacher certificate, like making it easier for someone who comes from another state that was certified there, that we can explore. In Pennsylvania a number of years ago, we put in a robust charter school program, and the charter school concept was to be an incubator for new ideas in education. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is just something we as a state have not done well and then look at that and say, okay, take those ideas that are good ideas, that are working, functioning ideas, and let’s put them into the conventional education system. Part of that is we’ve got a large apparatus in the PSEA, the State Teachers Union that doesn’t like to have change, but part is, too, administrative in the fact the state has not pushed that change. It’s allowed the charters to kind of grow and develop without making them the incubators they should be. But we need to think in the future about education and how we educate the children of today and tomorrow, because they do have challenges that are different from us when we were kids, and a lot of that is disciplinary.”