Pennsylvania Launches $1.5 Million Grant to Forge the Next Wave of Special Educators

Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE)

HARRISBURG, PA — To address the chronic shortage of special education teachers in Pennsylvania, the Department of Education (PDE) announced on Friday a new $1.5 million grant initiative designed to cultivate interest and skills in the field among young Pennsylvanians. This effort is part of a broader strategy by the Shapiro Administration to rejuvenate the state’s educator workforce, with a particular focus on the vital area of special education.

Secretary of Education Dr. Khalid N. Mumin underscored the administration’s commitment to expanding the educator workforce, highlighting the acute need for qualified special education professionals. The Developing Future Special Educators grants, available for the 2024-2026 period, aim to engage local education agencies (LEAs) — including school districts, charter schools, and institutions of higher education (IHEs) — in creating hands-on learning experiences for students considering careers in special education.

These grants, which can amount to up to $20,000, will fund up to three experiential learning opportunities per recipient. These programs are designed to immerse secondary and postsecondary students in the realities of special education, offering them firsthand experience through structured activities under the mentorship of current educators. The ultimate goal is to inspire and recruit the next generation of special education teachers by exposing them to the rewards and challenges of supporting students with disabilities.

LEAs and IHEs should apply through the Attract-Prepare-Retain (APR) Repository by June 10, 2024. A webinar will be held on Monday, April 29, 2024, from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM, and the session will be recorded and made available on the APR Repository.

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The timing of this initiative is critical. Pennsylvania, like many states across the nation, has seen a dramatic decline in the number of certified teachers entering the profession. A decade ago, the state issued approximately 20,000 teacher certifications annually; by 2021, that number had plummeted to around 6,000. This stark decrease underscores the urgency of adopting innovative approaches to teacher recruitment and retention.

In addition to addressing the shortage of special education teachers, the Shapiro Administration has introduced several measures aimed at bolstering the overall educator workforce. Among these is the PA Student Teacher Support Program, which offers up to $15,000 in stipends to eligible student teachers, administered through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). This program represents another facet of the state’s comprehensive effort to alleviate the teacher shortage and ensure that every Pennsylvania student has access to quality education.

By investing in the development of future educators, particularly in the specialized and highly needed field of special education, Pennsylvania is taking significant steps toward securing a brighter educational future for all its students. These initiatives not only aim to fill the immediate staffing gaps in critical education positions but also to foster a sustainable pipeline of passionate and skilled educators equipped to meet the diverse needs of learners across the Commonwealth.

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