Wolf Signs Bill to Address Substitute Teacher Shortage

By Emily Scott, Public News Service
For The Posts

HARRISBURG PA – A shortage of substitute teachers in Pennsylvania continues to exert education staffing pressures on school districts within the state. A new law signed this month by Gov. Tom Wolf aims to expand the pool of substitutes eligible for hire, and an even earlier decision made by the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors is paying bonuses to substitutes for their efforts.

A national survey conducted this year by the research center of Education Week magazine found that more than three-quarters of school principals and district executives interviewed had trouble finding enough substitutes to cover teacher absences. In fact, the majority indicated, they faced more challenges in hiring subs than in filling any other school-related job.

“The trend has been driven by the pandemic,” Time Magazine wrote in reporting on the results.

Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the shortage has a ripple effect on students’ ability to learn. The law authorized by the governor “is going to help achieve that by reducing the number of overcrowded classrooms,” he explained. “Educators are now telling me they don’t have time in the middle of their day to take a bathroom break.”

The association says it is “the largest and most influential public-sector union” in the state. Its membership includes the Pottsgrove Education Association.

Under House Bill 412 signed Dec. 17 (Friday) by Wolf:

  • Retired teachers are now eligible to fill teacher vacancies on an emergency or short-term basis.
  • Schools also can use eligible college students and recent education program graduates to serve as substitute teachers;
  • Educators with active Pennsylvania certificates, as well as those with comparable out-of-state certificates, can serve as day-to-day substitutes for 20 days, or longer under certain circumstances;
  • Teachers with inactive certificates may substitute for 180 days per school year, instead of 90 days; and
  • Individuals who are age 25 or older, have at least 60 college credits or 3 years of experience as a paraprofessional, and complete training on classroom management, may serve as “classroom monitors” by delivering preplanned assignments for a teacher.

The expanded substitute-teacher eligibility allowed in the bill will serve as a pilot program for the remainder of this school year and the next.

Pottsgrove tackles its substitute shortage

Pottsgrove’s school board on Oct. 12 (Tuesday) unanimously agreed to pay a bonus of $50 to day-to-day and building substitute teachers for every five days of service in either role. The bonuses will be funded by the district but paid through Kelly Services, on which the district relies for substitute hires.

District Superintendent Dr. David Finnerty advocated the bonuses “in recognition of the shortage of substitute teachers to fill openings in the district.” They also would compensate for what was described as Pottsgrove’s “differences in pay with neighboring districts.”

Unlike the measure signed by the governor, though, Pottsgrove’s modification is more limited in duration. It does not continue beyond the end of the 2021-22 academic year.

School director Bill Parker, who in the past has served as a substitute at a variety of schools, said he believes the payment “continues to be a real need” in Pottsgrove and elsewhere. He strongly supported the addition, he said.

“I’d honestly vote for even more,” director and board Secretary Ashley Custer said. “I’m happy to see this increase,” she noted.

Editor’s note: The Posts’ Managing Editor Joe Zlomek contributed supplemental reporting to this story.

Photo via Adobe Stock, provided by Public News Service under license and used with permission