The General Assembly approved bipartisan legislation that will help ease a shortage of substitute teachers that is quickly reaching crisis levels in many Pennsylvania schools, PSEA President Rich Askey said.
“There is a serious substitute teacher shortage in Pennsylvania, and this bill will begin to solve it by expanding the pool of eligible individuals who can fill these important positions,” Askey said. “We hope this will reduce the number of overcrowded classrooms and ease the burden teachers and support professionals are facing.
“We are very grateful to senators and representatives who worked together in a bipartisan way to write this bill. 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 to solve. Working together, we all collaborated on a strong bill that will begin to address this crisis.”
HB 412 is a significant step in the right direction to address the state’s substitute teacher shortage. The bill does the following:
- Retired educators. For the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, school administrators will have the flexibility to call whomever they want in whatever order they need in order to staff classrooms. The bill also reinforces existing law by stating that a person’s annuity cannot be diminished if they are hired because of an emergency shortage of day-to-day substitutes.
- Educators with inactive certificates. The bill permits individuals with inactive certifications to substitute for 180 days during the school year — up from 90 days under current law.
- Day-to-day substitutes. The bill expands the number of days a substitute can work in a school year by making it clear that a day-to-day sub can fill in for an individual for no more than 20 days. Currently, state regulations limit day-to-day substitute teachers to a maximum of 20 days in a “single assignment,” which has always meant the person’s certification area.
- Soon-to-be-college graduates. The bill allows future educators who have completed all of their requirements except a PRAXIS exam and have not yet received their diplomas to become day-to-day substitutes or long-term subs on a temporary basis.
- Student educators. The bill lifts limits on the number of days students enrolled in education programs may sub (while preserving limits when the individual is taking part in a student teacher program).
- “Classroom monitor” pilot program. For the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, the bill allows people with 60 college credits or paraprofessionals with at least three years of experience to fill in for teachers as “classroom monitors.” Classroom monitors would be allowed to oversee classrooms but would not be allowed to instruct students, grade assignments, or create work. The pilot program will expire on June 30, 2023, and the state Department of Education will be required to release a report on how the classroom monitor permit was used and if it helped ease the substitute crisis.
“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.
“There are many people in Pennsylvania who will make good substitute teachers. This bill will help give them the opportunity to become substitutes or classroom monitors and broaden the pool available to school districts.”
Askey said that while this legislation focuses on expanding the pool of substitute teachers, better compensation is also needed to attract and retain more substitutes.
“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.”
Askey is the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 178,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.