Pa. student teacher stipend program needs more funding to meet high demand, advocates say

3 months ago

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is offering a stipend for student teachers to help offset costs during their unpaid 12-week placement in a school. The program is attracting many more applicants than it anticipated.

For example, about 3,500 online applications were received by the PHEAA when it opened on April 11. However, the $10 million allocated for the program will only fund about 700 students, with stipends of up to $15,000. Most will receive a $10,000 stipend for the 12-week student teaching internship. An additional $5,000 is available to student teachers at schools with teacher shortages.

The prospective teachers will be notified this summer if they have been accepted to the program. Funding is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

The money was made possible by a bipartisan law signed in 2023 by Gov. Josh Shapiro that provided $10 million to the state’s educator pipeline program in the 2024-25 budget. Shapiro has proposed an additional $5 million for the program.

“As Gov. Shapiro has made clear, this is a commonsense, critically important initiative with broad bipartisan support – and it is positive to see such high demand for it,” said Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for the governor’s office. “The Shapiro Administration looks forward to having further conversations with leaders in both parties about how to deliver a needed increase in this grant funding as we work to continue building our teacher workforce and delivering the resources Pennsylvania students and families need.”

Supporters said the program should help ease the teacher shortage in the commonwealth. Currently, there are roughly 5,500 teacher vacancies across the state. Ten years ago, Pennsylvania certified about 20,000 teachers a year, according to the Shapiro administration. But in 2023, the commonwealth certified 5,000 teachers.

Advocates for the legislation such as the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 177,000 educators, including 7,000 student teachers, said the high number of applications proves that more money is needed.

“We love our teachers, we need our teachers, and we need to keep our teachers,” said state Rep. Gina Curry, who represents the 164th District in Delaware County, and co-sponsored funding legislation in the House. “We know that it will continue to be inequitable if we don’t get the $75 million that we really need to cover every student who wants to be a teacher.”

One of the sponsors of the legislation, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, said most teachers choose the profession “because they have a passion to educate,” not because of the paycheck.

“But we ask them in the final part of their certification process, to give up 12 weeks without any income for full-day work,” Hughes said. “We’ve asked them to do that for far too long. That ends now.”

Hughes made his comments last week at the state legislature, with a host of Democratic and Republican House and Senate members, and education advocates who supported the effort.

Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument, was also a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“We know the critical role, the essential role that classroom teachers play,” Aument said. “If we are going to deliver a high-quality education to each and every child who enters this system in Pennsylvania, we must have a process that ensures that the best and brightest go into education and want to go into education. We know that this stipend will help remove an unnecessary barrier to ensure that the best and brightest can go into education, if they choose.”

Amber Bloom, a student teacher at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg and vice president of Student PSEA, said that paying a small stipend to student teachers for classroom experience is a win-win.

“It is a win for the young people who want to pursue careers in the classroom, and it is a win for Pennsylvania because it removes a significant financial burden to becoming a teacher at a time when so many school districts are struggling with teacher shortages,” Bloom said.

But Bloom acknowledged that if she isn’t chosen for the stipend, she will likely have to take out a loan. Student teachers like her struggle to pay for commuting, food, and tuition, she said.

For his part, Shapiro said the stipend program is an example of lawmakers working across the aisle for a positive result.

“When these lawmakers and those who are assembled here today recognize the workforce challenges we have is, we don’t have enough teachers to educate our children, they came together,” Shapiro said.

Since Pennsylvania is one of the only states that have a divided government, with Republicans controlling the Senate and the Democrats leading the house, Shapiro said they must work together.

“That means for us to get anything done, it’s got to be common sense and it’s got to be bipartisan,” Shapiro said.

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