Over the past 30 years, the cost of living has risen, college tuition has soared, and the education profession has changed dramatically. Yet Pennsylvania’s minimum teacher salary has remained on the books at $18,500 per year, unchanged in the school code since 1989. Now there is a legislative proposal, recommended and supported by Gov. Tom Wolf, to raise the minimum salary across the state to $45,000.
Why is this so important? There was a time when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued more than 14,000 licenses to new teachers each year. In the last few years, that number has dropped to fewer than 5,000. Pennsylvania, like other states around the country , is experiencing a chronic shortage of certified teachers, not only in our urban areas, but here in Bucks and Montgomery Counties as well. What’s more, the problem is most acute in the areas of math and science, which are critical to a 21st century education, and special education, where the number of students identified and needing services has increased dramatically over the past 30 years.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that up to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Experts estimate that the teacher attrition rate is about 8 percent annually, with higher rates in urban districts. We need to find ways to not only recruit a diverse educator workforce, but to retain them in our classrooms across the state.
The Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS) believes that increasing the minimum teacher salary can address this growing teacher shortage by offering better compensation. Great schools depend upon great teachers, and we can’t attract the next generation of educators if our best and brightest students aren’t going into the profession. If we truly value those people who are responsible for enlightening the next generation, we need to ensure that their starting salary is commensurate with other professionals in the state who have equivalent levels of education.
Who would be impacted by this new minimum? There are 288 school districts in Pennsylvania where a total of 5,152 experienced educators earn less than $45,000. Of these educators, 76 percent are women. Even worse, there are 1,130 education professionals who make less than $40,000 per year. Half of these teachers have more than three years of experience, 20 percent have more than six years of experience, and 26 percent have master’s degrees. And a few of them are right here in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
The governor’s proposed minimum salary increase would not impact local school district budgets. It would only require an increase of one-quarter of 1 percent (. 0025%) in the state’s basic education funding line item. This translates to less than half a penny on the dollar. It’s the right thing to do for the people who educate our children. It’s time to give these professionals the respect they deserve.
If you agree that well-educated professionals shouldn’t struggle to make ends meet, please contact your legislators to express your support today.
Alan M. Malachowski is a music teacher in the North Penn School District and a member of the Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS).