Skip to main content
A1 A1
Shapiro plan tackles Pa. teacher shortage

Pennsylvania is dealing with a major teacher shortage.

The Commonwealth will need thousands of new teachers by 2025, but fewer college students are entering the education field and more teachers are leaving the profession.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania issued licenses to 20,000 new teachers a decade ago, but last year the state certified only 6,000.

The School District of Philadelphia opened the school year with more than 200 teacher vacancies, and last month the Board of Education approved more than 100 teacher resignations and retirements.

“We have a teacher shortage crisis today in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said during a recent visit to George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science. “If we fail to act, we will have an even greater crisis tomorrow.”

Shapiro visited the North Philadelphia school Wednesday. It was his first visit to a Philadelphia school since becoming governor in January.

He was joined at Carver by School District of Philadelphia superintendent Tony Watlington Sr., Board of Education president Reginald Streater, Board of Education vice president Mallory Fix-Lopez, City Council president Darrell Clarke, state Rep. Donna Bullock and state Sens. Sharif Street and Vincent Hughes.

“Research says that the single most important factor in student learning is a highly qualified, well-supported and stable teaching force over time,” Watlington said.

“We’re pleased that our governor took time to come to Carver and spend time talking with the principal, teachers and students and hear directly from them about how we continue to improve schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and in the School District of Philadelphia,” he added.

During his visit, Shapiro outlined his plan to use tax credits to encourage more teachers to enter and remain in the teaching profession. He also met with Carver teachers and students.

“Under my budget, teachers will qualify for up to $2,500 that will be back in their pockets every year for the next three years and hopefully longer for choosing Pennsylvania as the place where they go teach,” Shapiro said.

“This will apply for new teachers who are newly certified and for teachers who get certified in Pennsylvania by moving from another state,” he said. “My administration is also speeding up the certification process so teachers don’t have to wait to get into the classroom.”

Last week, Shapiro presented his $44.4 billion budget to the General Assembly. He called for $567.4 million for basic education funding, but also set aside additional money for children with disabilities or special needs, mental health services, career and technical education programs, fixing school buildings and the universal free breakfast program

The governor’s budget proposal comes after the Commonwealth Court ruled last month that Pennsylvania’s system for funding K-12 education is unconstitutional.

“The governor’s proposal along with the tax credits will help prospective teachers get into the teaching profession and is one of the principal vehicles to getting folks into that pipeline,” Hughes said.

“The fight for our future begins with quality teachers,” he said. “We know if we get them there, they will succeed, they will thrive and they will perform. The fight for our future lies in their hands.”

Carver teacher Paul Wagenhoffer said he sat down with Shapiro along with his colleagues to discuss what educators experience on a daily basis and what resources they need from the state.

“One of the big things we took away and that we tried to share with him is how important it is to not only keep us as teachers involved and keep us retained, but also make sure we’re treated as professionals,” Wagenhoffer said. “I feel this budget will really do that.”

State of Black Pennsylvania report shows positive trends

A new report about African Americans in Pennsylvania says grades for this group are coming up A’s in some key areas.

“There are some surprising things in this report ... the story is so often what we are not doing (right) but this is what we are doing,” said state Sen. Art Haywood, whose office recently issued the State of Black Pennsylvania Report 2010-2021.

It says, more Black households than ever are earning over $100,000 a year, 54,000 more Black households than a decade ago.

Also, the Black annual median household income increased from $31,000 in 2010 to 42,000 in 2021. The total Black population in poverty declined by 55,591 persons over that last 10 years or so — a change of –14.22%.

“What this report tells us is that when we advance policies and legislation to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians, if those policies are applied fairly across the board, Black folks will benefit,” state Rep. Donna Bullock said.

More African Americans have bachelor’s degrees or higher than 10 years ago, that’s 114,885 Black Pennsylvanians with bachelor’s degrees as of 2021 compared to 76,766 in 2010. There were 146,383 African Americans with associate’s degrees or with some college education in 2021, up from 130,377. Higher education is up nearly 75% for Black men and nearly 50% for Black women.

More African Americans in Pennsylvania have health insurance, of some kind, than a decade ago and Black Pennsylvanians who don’t have a personal doctor fell by 11%. Further, Black medical school graduates rose from 48 to 75 people between 2010 and 2021.

To add to the good news, the incarceration rate for African-Americans is down dramatically — by 8,000 in Pennsylvania, or 32%. That’s thanks in part to initiatives aimed at investing in communities and supportive services, bolstering sentencing alternatives, and reducing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders.

The State of Black Pennsylvania Report highlights successes in the changing position of Black Pennsylvanians in the areas of population, income, housing, education, health and incarceration.

The report, prepared by the State Democratic Policy and Research Office, was the result of more than two and half months of research and could be used as a resource to craft legislation and develop policy in the future.

This is the first report of its kind to compare “ourselves to ourselves,” Haywood said. Other reports have compared Black statistics to white statistics and others have had a national focus, such as the annual National Urban League’s “State of Black America Report.”

This time, Black Pennsylvanian’s socioeconomic status is tracked and compared to those oten years ago.

But there was not all good news: There were declines in homeownership and an alarming uptick in the number of hate crimes with anti-Black bias in the state.

Homeownership dropped 2.5% from 47% in 2010 — to 44.7% in 2010.

“Homeownership is down slightly, but that’s going in the wrong direction,” Haywood said. He added that we need to examine down-payment programs, discrimination by lenders and we need to end housing discrimination.

Haywood’s office will host an event in June in Northwest Philadelphia aimed at increasing homeownership. He said he will also visit Reading, Allentown, Erie and Pittsburgh with a roundtable of legislative leaders to discuss how they can help in their areas.

Also, hate crimes were up a staggering 323% toward African Americans across the state, according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System data for 2010 through 2021. There was a specific increase of 113 reported crimes of this nature, raising the total to 148 incidents compared to 35 incidents ten years ago. Encouragingly, though, the number of hate groups fell from 36 to 30 for this space of time, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Under the category of health, there were mostly pluses: greater health insurance coverage led to overall improvements in the health of Black Pennsylvanians between 2013 and 2021. There was a drop in residents reporting cardiovascular disease (from 6.6% to 5.9%) and there was a slight drop in new reports of mental health concerns (5.1% to 4.9%). However, the numbers of Blacks across the state reporting diabetes diagnosis rose from 13.10% in 2010 to 16.10% in 2021. And notably, there was a rise of nearly 14,000 persons with disabilities ages 18 and older.

“This report makes me hopeful,” said state Sen. Sharif Street said. “Especially when we look at the declining numbers of state incarceration. But there is more to do.”

AARP poll reveals concerns of voters over 50

A new survey commissioned by AARP Pennsylvania shows what key issues Black Philadelphia voters over the age of 50 are thinking about for the 2023 mayoral race.

The survey showed that Black voters over 50 are worried about inflation, pedestrian and street safety, gun violence and housing.

In the poll, 47% of Black voters said that they have thought about moving out of their neighborhood in the past year due to personal safety and security concerns, high property taxes and wanting to live in an area with a lower cost of living.

AARP’s poll found that 84% of Black voters over 50 are more likely to vote in the 2023 mayoral race compared with 81% of voters overall.

“This poll shows just how much Black voters over 50 are watching key issues their communities have spent decades fighting for,” said AARP Pennsylvania state director Bill Johnston-Walsh.

“They have worked a long time to own their homes and lift their neighborhoods and they deserve to age with dignity,” he said. “With inflation and the rising costs of living squeezing all Philadelphia Black voters over 50, they are clearly looking for new leadership with a plan to bring down gun violence and keep people in their homes.”

Among all Philadelphia voters over 50, 40% are struggling to keep up or are falling behind financially and 38% or more than one-third of workers are not confident that they will be able to retire at some point.

The poll also revealed that Philadelphia voters over 50 see room for improvement of elected officials. Fifty-four percent said they disapproved of Mayor Jim Kenney. Nearly 46% were dissatisfied with City Council and 32% disapproved of the job of their councilmember.

Historically, Philadelphia voters over 50 are a large voting bloc in the city’s election. During the mayoral primary election in 2015, they made up 63% of all Philadelphia voters and 61% in the 2019 mayoral primary, according to data from the Philadelphia City Commissioners Office.

“They are frustrated with the current administration, the mayor and City Council,” Johnston-Walsh said. “The mayor’s and City Council numbers are underwater with the 50-plus voters in Philadelphia. They disapprove of the job that they’re doing right now and want the issues that are important to them be addressed.

“We’re educating older Philadelphians as well as educating the mayoral candidates about those issues because I really don’t believe they know what the issues are,” he said.

“They need to know what is impacting older Philadelphians on a daily basis. They want to feel safe, stay in the homes that they’ve raised their families in and retire. I don’t think they’re asking for a lot. They’re just asking to be able to stay in their community as long as possible and they need the next mayor to be able to help them do that,” he added.

AARP commissioned ANR Market Research Consultants to conduct the survey. The survey, which reached 826 Philadelphia voters over the age of 50, was conducted last month via landline, cell phone and text message from Feb. 8 to Feb. 23.

The survey was released as part of AARP’s Philadelphia voter engagement campaign aimed at putting the city’s mayoral candidates in touch with the priorities of older adults.

“We’re not stopping with just the survey,” Johnston-Walsh said. “We will be having one-on-one meetings with each of the candidates over the next two weeks. We want to talk to them about the concerns outlined in the poll and see where each candidate stands on those issues.

“We’re looking to hold a televised debate with all of the candidates at the end of April,” he said. “As we get closer to the election itself, we want to make sure all Philadelphians know where to vote, how to vote and when to vote.

“We’re going to be sending a lot of information out so people will be able to meet all of the deadlines and vote,” Johnston-Walsh said.