A bill that lowers substitute teacher requirements in Ohio could get a two year extension amid staff shortages
Ohio schools have struggled to find and retain substitute teachers after two years of pandemic induced stressors. The state typically requires a four-year degree to be a sub, but the legislature waived that requirement to help fill the gap.
A proposed bill could extend that waiver, but it’s seeing some opposition from teachers and parents.
Centerburg Local Schools is a small, rural district in Knox County with about 1,200 students. Like many schools across the nation, staffing shortages forced them to be flexible to prevent schools from closing. Superintendent Mike Hebenthal said it’s hard to find someone with a four-year degree to do the job for what they’re able to pay.
“There’s just so much more opportunity out there," Hebenthal said. "Substitute teaching doesn’t pay a whole lot. We pay $90 a day, which ain't a whole lot of money; you can make that at a fast-food restaurant.”
Centerburg Schools used to rely on a pool of retired teachers and parents with four-year degrees that shared similar schedules with their kids. But those options have shrunk.
Hebenthal said the waiver allowed the district to hire two community members without degrees to fill that need.
“They do a really good job," Hebenthal said. "Really into it and really love the kids. Honestly, if you’d watch them and watch somebody that was degreed, I don’t think you’d be able to tell the difference.”
It’s a scenario playing out around the state. Data from the Department of Labor shows a steady decline of employed substitute teachers in Ohio. The pool shrank from 16,000 substitutes in 2018 to 5,030 in April 2021. That’s a 70% decrease in three years.
Here is a breakdown by year of employed substitute teachers in Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Education said the last time data was pulled on non-bachelor substitute teacher licenses was in December of 2021, and there were 1,170.
Data for 2022 is not yet available.
Amid the continued shortage, there’s a proposal in the Statehouse to extend the drop in standards for another two years. The Ohio School Board Association represents over 711 school boards and about 3,500 members across the state. The group’s deputy director of legislative services Will Schwartz said they support the change.
“There are concerns about the quality of potential substitutes and the education professional in general," Schwartz said. "Those concerns are valid, but there is an immediate gap right now that needs to be filled.”
As it stands, the bill would let anyone 18 and older with a high school diploma seek a substitute teacher’s license for any number of days during the school year.
Susan McDonald is a Knox County parent who also works for a parent support initiative. She’s against extending the lower hiring standards but understands the need to address a lack of subs. She said the shortage could be blamed on a lack of support for teachers.
“I feel like we have met that point of it being unsustainable. Now, we are saying how do we keep our schools open,” McDonald said.
McDonald is hopeful that the waiver does not become the norm for schools. She said the bill is a temporary solution to address a crisis.
“If it’s something that we consistently look to as a way to solve how we educate our children in a deliberate, intentional, and proactive way, I don’t think it’s particularly useful,” McDonald said.
The Ohio Federation of Teachers shares concerns with the bill. Union president Melissa Cropper wants to see more parameters included if it is extended.
“We’d like to see a level of content knowledge," Cropper said. "We would like to see some kind of regulations around working with children or young adults. Some kind of expertise in knowing how to manage a classroom. Some kind of age requirements.”
The Ohio Education Association is the state’s largest teachers union with more than 120,000 members. President Scott DiMauro said the bill helps but serves as a band-aid. DiMauro wants more financial support for schools, especially those with fewer resources.
“There is an awful lot that we ask of teachers," he said. "Public schools do such critical work, not just academic learning, but social-emotional needs of kids and serving as hubs in communities. We need a lot more help in the form of nurses and counselors.”
While DiMauro supports extending the lowered hiring standard, he wants the waiver shortened from two years to one and an amendment calling for a study committee on substitute teacher shortages. He hopes educators are invited to the table.
Schools are not just contending with substitute teacher shortages, but full-time teachers, too. Classified staff like bus drivers and janitorial services are also short on employees, an issue that Centerburg Schools has also struggled with.
The bill cleared the Ohio House earlier this year and is awaiting consideration in the Senate. There is currently no date set for the bill to be considered in the Senate.