Gov. Wolf signs legislation to address the state’s substitute teacher crisis

By Victor Skinner, The Center Square

House Bill 412, sponsored by Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberland, is designed to help alleviate the statewide shortage of substitute teachers by giving schools flexibility to fill positions with retired, inactive or student teachers.

“The declining number of teacher certificates issued in Pennsylvania, plus the strain of bringing back students who have been out of physical classrooms for 18 months, has exacerbated the substitute crisis throughout the state,” Gleim said. “Schools have not been able to find enough substitutes to cover a day of classes for some time now and it continues to get worse.”

Gleim’s legislation, backed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and signed Friday by Wolf, expands the ability of teachers with a state-issued, day-to-day substitute permit to serve in more than one assignment for up to 20 days, or longer under certain circumstances. They were restricted previously to one assignment.

The bill also allows those with inactive teacher certifications to be employed as a substitute for up to 180 days per school year, rather than the previous 90-day limit. Retired teachers, eligible college students and recent graduates also now eligible to fill teacher vacancies on an emergency or short-term basis.

Individuals over 25 years old with at least 60 college credits or three years of experience as a paraprofessional with classroom management training also can serve as “classroom monitors” to deliver preplanned assignments.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned how critical in-classroom education is for our K-12 students,” Wolf said. “I am proud to sign this legislation which allows schools the short-term flexibility to ensure children can safely learn in-person where we know is best for them and their futures. I look forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to address these key issues longer term.”

The new rules are limited to the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

PSEA President Rich Askey told Berks Community TV the changes will go a long way to help the union’s stressed out members and commended lawmakers from both parties for working together to help.

“For months, PSEA members have been stressed to the breaking point because of the shortage of substitute teachers,” Askey said. “Without enough substitutes, some students are missing lessons, learning in packed classrooms, or even gathering in cafeterias. PSEA members’ top priority is ensuring that all students receive the best possible education. This bill will help students, educators, and support professionals do that essential work.

“PSEA is proud to have worked with lawmakers in both parties who clearly understand that the substitute teacher shortage is a crisis state government can help solve,” he said. “Working together, we all collaborated on a strong bill that will begin to address this crisis.”

Askey said broadening the pool of eligible substitutes is one critical component to fixing the problem, but increasing pay for substitute teachers is another.

“PSEA urges school districts across Pennsylvania to apply for American Rescue Plan funds that can be used to increase daily pay for substitutes,” Askey said. “By expanding the pool of substitutes and paying them what they deserve for a hard day’s work, we can address this crisis before it takes any further toll on student learning and the already heavy workload of our educators and support professionals.”

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