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The bitter pills of public education

The teaching profession isn’t glamorous. The oft-ballyhooed summer breaks can be filled with lesson plan creation and continuing education. Students and their smartphones can be difficult. Pay doesn’t keep up with inflation, and job duties spread far beyond classroom instruction.

But the next generation needs to be taught. And states all around the country are scrambling to attract new teachers.

According to information from the Commonwealth Foundation, the average annual salary of a public schoolteacher in Pennsylvania is $75,000, the 12th highest in the nation. Research for Action, a nonprofit education research organization, says there are 155,854 public schoolteachers in the state.

To top it off, becoming a teacher is expensive. With the rising costs of a college education, teacher recruitment only goes from bad to worse.

All this in mind, lawmakers in Harrisburg have offered a bit of a sweetener to the bitter pill that is a career in education.

According to an Associated Press report in today’s Eagle, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency reported receiving at least 3,000 applications for stipends just two hours after the window for applications opened. The $10 million approved by lawmakers for the stipends last year, however, was only expected to serve about 650 student-teachers.

Stipends are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, the agency said.

Lawmakers created the program to give a stipend of at least $15,000 to student-teachers in districts that attract fewer student-teachers or have a high rate of open teaching positions. A student-teacher in other districts would receive a minimum stipend of $10,000.

Stipend recipients must commit to teaching in Pennsylvania for three years after completing their teaching certification.

The stipends are aimed at easing a hardship for college students finishing up a teaching degree who currently must teach in schools for 12 weeks without pay.

The good news is there are at least 3,000 college-educated people who are looking forward to becoming teachers. The bad news is, the lack of funding for this program might be a turnoff for some of them.

Public education is expensive. Finding people to educate the public is difficult. But having a well-educated populous is too important to risk losing even one potential educator. We have to do better by them.

— RJ

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