Op-Ed: Politicizing the Teacher Shortage is Wrong & It Only Hurts Our Children

State Senator Ryan Aument (R-36)

Pennsylvania has a teacher shortage. If we do nothing, our children will suffer consequences like overcrowded classrooms, impersonal instruction, less access to courses and programs they’re offered now, and less time to help our most vulnerable students, resulting in more students being left behind. I have a bill that will help get more teachers into PA classrooms, but some have misinterpreted or been intentionally dishonest about the plain language of the bill and the intent behind its introduction. 

Pennsylvania is not unique in our struggle to fill vital teaching positions; around the country teachers are leaving the profession at a high rate of speed, and the pipeline to fill those retiring educators is all but drying up.

The problem can be seen close to home in Lancaster County as schools have eliminated courses and   programs due to a lack of qualified educators to teach them. Some local school districts are reporting a significant decline – 75% in the last 5 years – in the amount of applicants to fill these open positions, and others are unable to fill these vacancies at all with 10, 16, or even 24 currently vacant positions.

And this issue is not unique to public schools – private schools are also struggling to fill open positions and maintain course offerings for their students. If you are a parent of a school-aged child, you are likely already experiencing this. And if not, you soon will.

This is why I have sponsored Senate Bill 99, a proposal to help fill the vacancies at our local Lancaster County schools, as well as school across the state, with highly qualified candidates through programs that help attract more students into the teaching profession.  Any narrative that suggests this bill is anything more than that is simply not true.

Here’s what the bill does do:

  • Strengthens the Commonwealth’s dual enrollment and dual credit programs, which allows students to earn college credits for courses they take while still in high school, saving the student time and money when working towards a degree or certification.  Not all schools participate in this program so this bill would ensure that every student has the opportunity to get a jump start on their higher education goals. 
  • Establishes an optional program of study for education through our Career & Technical Education Centers, providing another opportunity for students to begin taking courses early in their education career and receive credit towards future credentials, certificates, or degrees.
  • Requires the PA Department of Education to appoint an individual who will be responsible for reviewing data to ensure programs aimed at addressing the teacher shortage are actually working. It’s important to note that this position is not new, it’s simply vacant right now, so my bill would ensure the role is always filled. The bill does NOT give any authority to the person in this role to make any mandates regarding the hiring of prospective teachers. They set goals and issue a report, period.

In fact, this bill has absolutely nothing to do with hiring. It does not create hiring policies, hiring requirements, and certainly doesn’t create hiring quotas based on qualities unrelated to merit, like gender or race. In fact, Senate Bill 99 doesn’t even speak to the process of hiring at all.

Further, it does NOT advance Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (or DEI) curriculum or Critical Race Theory. And it does NOT create a parallel education system that receives federal funds. All of these interpretations of the bill are WRONG.

But don’t take my word for it, read the language of the bill for yourself.

You’ll also see that the bill does nothing to weaken the rigorous requirements to become a teacher. Instead, it temporarily suspends an impractical standardized test that studies have shown, like many other standardized tests, is not an indicator of an effective teacher or success. In fact, this bill brings Pennsylvania in line with the majority of states that have eliminated this barrier to educator prep programs by waiving this test for 3 years so a study can be done to determine if the test is necessary.  Though the basic skills test is waived, students will still be required to pass all the teacher prep program courses, graduate, and pass the content exams in their area of study to become a teacher.   

Finally, you’ll see that that the bill does not create any new education system nor is the state receiving any new federal funding. This bill uses the existing programs to expand pathways that students currently follow to become educators.

As you see, this bill solely focuses on the front-end of the teacher shortage issue – getting more students interested in the teaching profession and into educator prep programs so the pool of available teachers is sufficient to fill the vacancies in our children’s classrooms. Again, it does not speak to hiring – schools will continue to be free to hire teaching candidates as they see fit.

I know there’s been some concerns about the use of the word “diversity” in this bill, and since I have strongly and consistently opposed diversity mandates, Senate Bill 99 does no such thing. We should attract people of all backgrounds to the teaching profession. In particular, I am concerned about the lack of male teachers in our local classrooms, but I also understand how vital recruiting more men of color to urban school districts is for their students to have access to quality male role models. Attracting, not mandating, more men and people of color into the teaching profession is a good thing – and that’s not something we should politicize.

I know reading legislation and understanding the impact of proposed language can be difficult, and I have always welcomed questions about my proposals or others.  Unfortunately, it’s clear some have chosen to intentionally mislead the public about Senate Bill 99, which only serves to distract from the very real issue I’m trying to address – Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage and the negative impacts it has on our children’s education.  This is not a partisan issue – the prime sponsor of this bill in the House is a Republican and that bill is also co-sponsored by well-respected conservatives.

Fixing our teacher shortage is necessary for the educational future of children in Lancaster County, and Senate Bill 99 will help close the gap by attracting more highly qualified candidates to the teaching profession and filling vacant positions in your child’s school.

Learn more about Senate Bill 99 and the teacher shortage here.