Sabrina Werley works with her 4th grade students in a math support class at Cumru Elementary School in Cumru Twp., April 14, 2021. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images) Special Education Teacher In Pennsylvania
Sabrina Werley works with her 4th grade students in a math support class at Cumru Elementary School in Cumru Twp., April 14, 2021. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

In 2012, a total of 11,880 students completed teacher education programs in Pennsylvania. Last year, that number dropped to 5,553, a decline of 53% in less than a decade.

Pennsylvania is producing less than half as many teachers as it was a decade ago.

New Jersey has seen a very similar trend. The decline is not quite as steep nationally, but it still shows a 25% nationwide drop according to the latest federal data.

The causes for this decline are numerous. For example, Pennsylvania’s funding for its public college has ranked among the lowest in the nation, making its universities more costly, and driving up student debt in dramatic ways. Over time, this cycle has resulted in lower enrollment year to year, as students make the decision to go out of state, or just to not attend college at all.

And then, as the numbers were already tumbling, the pandemic hit, throwing the education system into turmoil nationwide. Resignations and early retirements have spiked, and without the pipeline to fill the openings, many districts have turned to emergency measures, pulling teachers from specialties like art, music, or the library to cover classrooms, pulling administrators into the classroom, and granting “emergency permits” to teachers who would otherwise not meet the qualifications necessary to fill full-time positions.

And now that the country is beginning to recover from the pandemic, Pennsylvania schools are now dealing with a series of coordinated and suspiciously well funded attacks, as everything from book banning to outright public attacks on educators have become the norm on the political right.

And as these attacks accelerate and add to an already overburdened system, the very future of public education in Pennsylvania stands on increasingly shaky ground.