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'Grow Our Own': Bill aimed at addressing teacher shortage passes state House

21st Century program
Sarah Mueller
Children in the 21st Century after-school program play on the playground at Roosevelt Elementary School in Allentown

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Legislation aimed at addressing the state’s teacher shortage, especially of educators of color, passed the Pennsylvania House Monday, but faces an unclear future in the Senate. It was approved 120-81, with more than a dozen Republicans crossing the aisle to support it.

Rep. Mike Schlossberg, a Lehigh County Democrat, sponsored the measure. It would create a “Grow Our Own Educators” program, providing grants to help cultivate educators to teach in rural communities and high-need areas of the state. He said more intense work needs to be done to recruit teachers.

  • Rep. Mike Schlossberg's bill would fund a pathway for a high school student to get into the teaching profession
  • His legislation passed the state House 120-81
  • It will now be considered in the Senate

“There’s a long track record of grow your own programs working and not only working, getting more people into the selective fields, but in staying in their communities," Schlossberg said.
Under the proposal, a school district and a higher education institution with an educator preparation program would be able to apply to the state Department of Education for funding to create or expand one of four career pathways identified in the bill. The pathways include high school student to aspiring educator, aspiring to enacting educator, education support professional to educator, or community member to education support professional.

Charter schools, private schools, intermediate units and other educational organizations are also eligible for the grants. The money would come from a newly-established account created by lawmakers for that purpose.

We want kids to see themselves in their teachers.
Rep. Mike Schlossberg

The bill mandates the Department of Education prioritize schools with certain challenges, such as those that have been in financial recovery, have been targeted for improvement or have teacher shortages.

Schlossberg said his legislation would train educators who come from the same neighborhoods, making them more representative of the students they teach. According to a 2018 curriculum audit, more than 90% of the teachers in the Allentown School District are white, while the majority of the student population are Hispanic and Black.

“That’s a challenge,” he said. “We want kids to see themselves in their teachers.”

Schlossberg said there are probably many reasons why more people of color are not going into the education field, but that not having a teacher that looks like them or has the same kind of experiences as them may be an important factor.

The Allentown School District has created STEM Career and STEM Teacher pathways for teacher candidates to return to the Allentown School District that will launch this fall. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The vision, according to a presentation given last year to school board members by Brandy Sawyer, executive director of curriculum and educator supports, is to get diverse teacher candidates to return directly to the district. It's partnering on the plan with Lehigh Carbon Community College, Kutztown University, Bloomsburg University, East Stroudsburg University and Cedar Crest College for that purpose.

Some House Republicans supported his bill, but in the Republican-controlled Senate, the odds of passage are a bit more daunting.

Schlossberg said while he knows state senators have their own ideas on mitigating teacher shortages, he’s hopeful they’ll consider his bill.

“I know there are supporters in the Senate who want to address the issue,” he said. “I know that my bill is one of the vehicles to do that. Whether or not they take my bill up, I can’t say that for sure.”