HARRISBURG, Pa. – Low pay is a likely factor in Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage, according to a new report. The report, from the Economic Policy Institute, shows that weekly compensation, including wages and benefits, for teachers in the Keystone State are almost 7 percent lower than pay for comparable full time employees in other professions.

According to Dolores McCracken, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, this may explain a dramatic drop in the number of students pursuing teaching degrees.

“We’ve also seen a similar decline in the number of teaching certificates that are being issued by the Department of Education,” she says. “In fact, we’ve seen these numbers drop by 66 percent since 2014.”

She adds that an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Pennsylvania teachers will retire over the next ten years, making the shortage even more critical.

Jeffrey Keefe, professor emeritus at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, wrote the report.

Keefe indicates that hiring and retaining new teachers may get even more difficult. Legislation that goes into effect in 2019 will reduce state and school district contributions to teacher pension funds.

“So when we look at overall compensation,” he says, “the teacher penalty will go up to 10 percent a year compared to similarly educated, experienced employees in the state working similar hours.”

While wages are generally the primary consideration for new hires, retirement benefits are important too, especially as teachers get older.

McCracken notes that college students gravitate towards studies that will lead to good paying careers, and, over the past three years, the number of college students entering Pennsylvania teacher prep programs has dropped almost 60 percent.

“If we’re going to attract teachers to spend their careers in public education, then we need to be sure that they’re getting the pay that they deserve,” says McCracken. “That’s good for the teaching profession, it’s good for our public schools, and it’s also good for the kids that we all serve.”

She adds that the teacher shortage is having a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

Andrea Sears