Teach Plus Teacher Leaders Meet with Lawmakers at the Capitol to Share their Stories and Recommendations
HARRISBURG, PA (May 24, 2022) — As Pennsylvania’s school funding system is challenged in an ongoing court case and the General Assembly considers next year’s education budget, Teach Plus and Teach Plus teacher leaders have shined a spotlight on what underfunding looks, sounds, and feels like in Pennsylvania’s public school classrooms. In a new report, Funding Our Future: Teach Plus Pennsylvania Teacher Leaders on Fixing an Inadequate and Inequitable School Funding System, Teach Plus teacher leaders share findings from focus groups conducted with nearly 100 educators across Pennsylvania and recommendations for policymakers on funding public schools more equitably.
“Pennsylvania’s teachers have a front-row view of our inadequate and inequitable school funding system, and their stories are powerful, vivid, and heartbreaking,” Teach Plus Pennsylvania Executive Director Laura Boyce said. “As we enter budget season with a historic state surplus, these findings and recommendations, informed by those closest to the students our public schools serve, make a compelling case for fundamentally reshaping our broken state funding system.”
Teach Plus teacher leaders identified four key findings based on their educator focus groups:
- Underfunding has devastating effects on student and teacher mental health.
- Underfunding leads to crumbling school infrastructure and facilities that create an unsafe learning environment.
- Underfunding hinders schools’ ability to attract and retain sufficient staff to meet student needs.
- Underfunding limits academic opportunities and resources, hindering student learning and achievement.
In a press conference held in the Capitol Rotunda after a day in which 35 Teach Plus teacher leaders from across Pennsylvania met with over 70 legislators, teachers shared stories connected to these findings.
“At a time when the impact of COVID-19 on children’s and young people’s mental health is profound, our 900 students at Isaac Tripp Elementary have access to one guidance counselor, in spite of the fact that the American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of 250 to 1,” said Laura Sosik, Teach Plus Policy Fellow and 2nd grade teacher in the Scranton School District. “I have seen firsthand the impact that the pandemic has had on my students. Teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn if their mental health is threatened.”
“Schools need to be safe, and that safety has to include the physical buildings in which our kids learn,’ said Dr. Kyle Boyer, Teach Plus Policy Fellow and 7th grade math teacher from Norristown Area School District. “Ultimately, schools are about learning, but with unsafe facilities comes unsafe learning environments for our children, and maximum learning can not happen when we hold our facilities to minimum standards.”
“When schools and districts have insufficient resources, there are ripple effects on class sizes, staff salaries, ability to hire specialized staff, and educator workload,” said Luke Strawser, Teach Plus Policy Fellow and 7th grade teacher from Mount Union Area School District. “As a teacher in an underfunded rural district, I am all too familiar with this struggle. Low salaries contribute to our district’s #1 problem: the inability to attract and retain teachers.”
“Underfunding prevents schools from hiring specialized staff to support struggling learners, leads to outdated or insufficient instructional materials, and denies students access to resources like libraries and librarians,” said Anna George, Teach Plus Policy Fellow and 4th grade teacher from Duquesne City School District. “It’s not that my students aren’t capable, hardworking, and ambitious; they are. But they are being denied the opportunities and resources they need and deserve. Their zip code should be the last reason that they are not given the same opportunities as students in other districts.”
The teachers’ recommendations are:
- Increase state funding to meet districts’ adequacy needs and reduce reliance on local wealth.
- Target resources to areas of greatest need, such as mental health and school facilities.
- Prioritize equity by accelerating resources to the most underfunded districts.
- Include teachers in decisions about how to best allocate resources.
“As long as our legislators refuse to pay up for Pennsylvania’s schools, it is our students who pay the price–and when our children suffer, our entire Commonwealth, including our future workforce and economy, also feels the costs,” said Ms. Boyce. “This budget season, it’s time for legislators to listen to the teachers who are sounding the alarm about the dire consequences of underfunding while offering solutions on how to fix it.”
About Teach Plus
The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. Since 2009, Teach Plus has developed thousands of teacher leaders across the country to exercise their leadership in shaping education policy and improving teaching and learning, to create an education system driven by access and excellence for all. teachplus.org