The Center Square — Teachers unions, public school officials and the Pennsylvania's Department of Education say the state has a teacher shortage.
Data analyzed by The Center Square, however, shows there has been an increase in the number of teachers against a dropping enrollment. Still, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Education explained how shortages do remain.
"School districts are using emergency permits to fill vacancies because they cannot find a certified teacher to fill the vacancy, and regional and subject-specific shortages remain across the state," he said.
In July, Pennsylvania's Department of Education released a "strategic plan" to recruit and retain more teachers.
From school years 2013-14 to 2020-21, the statewide number of teachers increased 2% while enrollment dropped 6%. The number of teachers during that seven-year span increased from 118,135 to 120,717. This data is provided by the latest report from the National Education Association.
Casey Smith, the communications director for the education department, wrote in an email to The Center Square, "An increase in staff doesn’t mean there is not a shortage, it simply means that more staff were hired over last year while there is still a large number of vacancies to fill. To simplify, consider this theoretical example: School A has 1,000 teachers and 200 vacancies. This year, it hired 100 new teachers to bring its staff to 1,100. That’s a 10% increase, but there are still 100 unfilled vacancies."
Pittsburgh's public school district, second largest in the state, had a 7.3% drop in enrollment from 2015-16 to 2020-21 school; it has 4% more teachers. The number of teachers increased from 1,996 to 2,070 over that five-year period, following the statewide trend.
At Philadelphia's public school district, the largest in the state, there has been a 17% drop in enrollment coupled with an 8% reduction in the number of teachers from 2011-12 to 2020-21. Philadelphia's pupil-to-teacher ratio of 14 in 2021 was the lowest since 2011.
The U.S. Department of Education has been tracking teacher shortages as far back as 1990. Positions for special education and foreign languages have been common shortages in Pennsylvania.
Some school districts have addressed chronic shortages in certain areas such as special education. In Philadelphia's school district, special education teachers are offered a slightly higher pay scale than standard teachers.
At time of publication, the Pennsylvania State Education Association had not responded to an email requesting comment.