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December 20, 2021

Pennsylvania expands eligibility of qualified substitute teachers to address staffing shortages

The measure comes as school districts across the state grapple with a lack of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Education Substitute Teachers
Pennsylvania substitute teachers NeONBRAND/Unsplash

A new law enacted in Pennsylvania will allow for more former, current and future educators to become immediately eligible to serve as substitute teachers in public schools across the state.

Pennsylvania is lending a helping hand to school districts across the state that are dealing with staffing issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Friday a measure that will allow for more former, current and future educators to become immediately eligible to serve as substitute teachers in public schools.

Wolf said that the initiative will help school districts continue to provide full-time, in-person instruction to K-12 students amid the public health crisis.

“During 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."

Retired educators are now eligible to fill teacher vacancies on a short-term basis. College students who have yet to graduate and complete the PRAXIS exam, as well as recent graduates of education programs, can now step in on an emergency basis to serve as substitutes.

Educators with active Pennsylvania teachers certificates and those with out-of-state certifications can serve as day-to-day substitute teachers for 20 days or longer under certain conditions. Teachers with expired certificates may substitute for 180 days rather than 90 days per school year.

Those who are 25 years or older, have earned at least 60 college credits or have three years of experience as a paraprofessional and complete training on classroom assignment, can serve as classroom monitors by delivering pre-planned tasks for a teacher. 

The parameters of the legislation apply to the remainder of the current school year and the 2022-23 academic year.

The measure was introduced earlier this year to address the state's teacher shortage. Pennsylvania has seen the number of teaching certificates issued annually plummet from 14,000 to fewer than 5,000 per year, PennLive reported.

The bill passed both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly last week with bipartisan support.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, supported the measure, saying that it will help ease the burden on teachers and school support staff.

“For months, PSEA members have been stressed to the breaking point because of the shortage of substitute teachers,” PSEA President Rich Askey said. “Without enough substitutes, some students are missing lessons, learning in packed classrooms or even gathering in cafeterias." 

“There are many people in Pennsylvania who will make good substitute teachers," Askey continued. "This law will help give them the opportunity to become substitutes or classroom monitors and broaden the pool available to school districts.”

Askey also called on Pennsylvania school districts to increase wages for substitute teachers in order to attract and retain more educators.

"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 said.

Substitute teachers in the School District of Philadelphia began receiving daily bonuses in October in order to entice experienced educators to come back to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kelly Educational Services, which supplies the city's public school system with its substitute workers, said this fall that it had only filled 41% of its open school jobs in Philadelphia, meaning most vacancies remain unstaffed. 

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