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Senate targets teacher shortfall

Bill aims to ease certification barriers to increase pool of educators

State senators have introduced a bill to help reverse a decadelong decline in certified teachers.

Senators Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Cambria, and Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, introduced Senate Bill 1325 earlier this week that would “help address Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage by simplifying the process for out-of-state teachers to receive certification and streamlining Pennsylvania’s rigorous training standards for teachers,” according to a release by the senators.

Since 2009, the number of newly issued in-state instructional teaching certificates has dropped by 71%, according to the state Department of Education.

The added challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic has “raised new concerns about the ability of school districts to appropriately staff instructional positions for the current school year,” the release said.

Jeff Hite is senior regional manager at ESS Recruiting which helps recruit educators for short- and long-term positions for Altoona Area, Claysburg-Kimmel, Spring Cove and Williamsburg Community school districts. Hite said the organization has many retired teachers who fill long-term positions, but the number of new candidates has shrunk, citing fewer recruits from college and university events since he started with the company seven years ago.

“We are so limited on certifications, anything to speed up the process or get more of those would be helpful,” he said.

The legislation would make those who have completed any state-approved educator preparation program from an accredited institution of higher education eligible for a comparable in-state instructional certification.

The bill also would grant state certification to any candidate who holds a valid certificate issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or has a qualifying score on equivalent content tests toward DOE testing and certification requirements.

Hite said the certification can be a barrier, even if a candidate is qualified.

“We had a teacher who was a retired chemist at Westinghouse (Electric Co.),” he said. “He had the knowledge, just not the papers.”

Chris Lilienthal, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the organization supports this bill and Senate Bill 1216 — also sponsored by Langerholc — which would allow the DOE to issue a temporary certificate to individuals that have completed all of their teacher preparation requirements except their final assessment.

Lilienthal said the certification process was disrupted during the pandemic due to closed testing centers in the spring. Though now opened, he said there are still limited dates and access to take the tests geographically based on test center availability.

He said, under this bill, educators will have to complete the exams when they become available and any temporary certification under the legislation would expire June 30, 2021.

Bill 1216 passed the state Senate on July 15 with a 50-0 vote. It now awaits a decision in the House.

Mirror Staff Writer Dom Cuzzolina is at 946-7428.

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