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New PSEA president vows to tackle education challenges

Experts say policy changes flow into the classroom.
Michael Loccisano
Getty Images
The Pennsylvania State Education Association represents about 177,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff and health care workers.

The shortage of teachers and school staffers has reached crisis level in some Pennsylvania public schools, and is among the chief concerns of the new teachers' union leader.

Aaron Chapin, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and a 4th and 5th grade teacher in the Stroudsburg Area School District, noted in the past 10 years, there's been a 73% drop in applicants seeking first-year teaching certificates in the Commonwealth.

Chapin pointed out Pennsylvania is already working to award scholarships and recruit future educators through a new community-based initiative.

"We also just instituted a new program and introduced it into Pennsylvania, called 'Educators Rising,'" Chapin explained. "It's an opportunity for kids in high school to have those opportunities, to see if education is the path that they want to take in their adult lives."

Pennsylvania serves more than 1.7 million students in grades K-12. This month, the state's Department of Education has launched a new online portal with resources and information for people interested in becoming educators.

Chapin noted one major issue is teachers and other support staff do not feel they're making competitive wages. The union is backing a bill to substantially increase salaries.

"There's some legislation right now, and we're supporting it, that the minimum salary for educators be $60,000 a year, and that our support professionals get $20 minimum an hour for working in the schools," Chapin outlined. "And we really believe that this will open the doors for some coming into education that may not have already been considering it."

Chapin emphasized teachers have valuable insight into their students' lives and challenges. He added it is important for educators to voice those concerns to lawmakers.

"They're the ones that understand just about the mental health concerns that our students are having," Chapin stressed. "They understand that we have many students that have those food insecurities, or that they're homeless, and we need our members to be able to share those stories with legislators so that we can come up with some solutions."

Chapin is touring the state with union Vice President Jeff Ney and Treasurer Rachael West to hear teachers' and staff concerns. In his words, there are "excellent solutions" to some of the issues facing Pennsylvania schools. He contended the future of public education in the state is promising if educators and lawmakers can work together on key issues.