Legislature threatening education’s future

Despite Pennsylvania’s budget stalemate approaching half a year, at least one local politician continues to focus his energies instead on attacking teachers, public schools and the pensions of state

employees.

Senator John Eichelberger endorsed legislation that not only crushes the pension system for current state employees, but also includes an opt-out clause so that elected officials like Eichelberger are immune from the punitive changes they are so willing to apply to their own constituents.

Any time spent by the Legislature on another round of previously defeated assaults masquerading under titles like “paycheck protection” diverts time from solving a critical budget impasse that is now threatening large, urban school districts to close, as they are unable to borrow any more money until a state budget is approved.

Many more will follow.

Years’ worth of attacks on teachers is also taking a toll on the profession in unexpected and detrimental ways.

From 2012-2015, the PA Department of Education reported a 62 percent drop in residents seeking teacher certifications. Teachers seeking additional certifications fell by 78 percent, and out-of-state teachers seeking Pennsylvania certification plummeted 57 percent during the same period.

Schools now struggle to fill vacancies in disciplines like secondary science, during an era supposedly focused on science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

A retired colleague of mine now supervises student-teachers for Penn State University and has seen the average number of students assigned to him plummet gradually from 20-25 per year down to only four this school year.

Four student teachers assigned to an entire area – from the largest university in Pennsylvania, no less.

Our young people are not foolish. On the contrary, the majority are exceptionally bright and observant.

Overhearing a relentless stream of attacks and ramroded “reforms” on teachers and education via the media has led many to realize they’re far better off pursuing a degree in the private sector, where money is often far higher and scrutiny surely far lower.

More often than not, whenever I overhear students asking my colleagues about pursuing a career in education, the immediate response is “Please don’t do it.”

Until communities are willing to rally around their schools and teachers – and not allow the originators of these attacks to continue unopposed – Pennsylvania’s students will be educated by who is available, rather than who is best.

James Krug

Altoona