Legislative proposals to increase starting salaries for Pennsylvania teachers, along with scholarship and loan forgiveness incentives, represent an aggressive approach to filling increasing voids in classrooms across the commonwealth.

Whether they fit in every part of the state is up for debate, but they would offer another tool for schools to recruit educators. The package would push the floor for teachers’ salaries to $60,000 and could be paired with provisions that would provide up to $40,000 in student loan forgiveness and up to $32,000 for recipients of a new scholarship. Some of the perks would require teachers to stay in the commonwealth for four years.

As highlighted in a CNHI special report earlier this year, Pennsylvania has not been immune to a teacher shortage spreading across the nation. In fact, it is likely to grow worse considering new teacher certifications fell 64% from 2010-11 to 2020-21 statewide, dropping from 21,045 to 7,695 in a decade.

“Our schools are in crisis. There are not enough teachers to go around,” Rep. Jim Rigby, a Republican supporting the legislation along with a series of Democrats.

The state’s current base is $18,500, a starting point that has remained unchanged since 1989. The starting average statewide is nearly double that — $46,991 — according to data from the National Education Association.

State Rep. Patty Kim, a Democrat from Dauphin County said 15,400 teachers statewide earn less than $60,000. Some of those work right here in our region.

The current year’s state budget saw an increase of $1.8 billion in education spending. How that money will be allocated may hinge on an ongoing court battle focused on a fair funding formula.

If state lawmakers want to push opening salaries to $60,000, then funding better come with it. Districts have been tightening budgets for years now to make ends meet, particularly against the backdrop of hundreds of thousands of dollars going out of district coffers to pay pensions and other vital spending. There aren’t a lot of moving parts left in budgets to cut, so forcing an increase to starting salaries — probably a needed boost considering the staffing crisis — feels like something that deserves serious debate.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Editor William Bowman.

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