Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday signed a bill providing temporary relief to school districts struggling amid a national shortage of substitute teachers.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the legislation this week. The bill, authored by state Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, gives schools added flexibility for filling classroom vacancies during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned how critical in-person classroom education is for our K-12 students,” Wolf said in a statement. “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.”
With the measure now law, retired teachers are eligible to fill teacher vacancies on an emergency or short-term basis; educators with active Pennsylvania certificates and those with comparable out-of-state certificates can serve as day-to-day substitutes for 20 days or longer under some circumstances. The measure also allows teachers with inactive certifications to substitute for 180 days instead of 90 per school year.
Schools also may use eligible college students and recent education graduates to serve as substitutes. Those who are 25 or older and possess at least 60 college credits or three years of experience as paraprofessionals, and complete training, can work as “classroom monitors.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents thousands of educators across the commonwealth, praised the legislation, saying it’s a step toward solving the shortage by expanding the pool of those eligible to fill the void.
“We hope this will help reduce the number of overcrowded classrooms and ease the burden teachers and support professionals are facing,” PSEA President Rich Askey said in a statement earlier this week.
Askey, however, said better compensation is also necessary to recruit and retain 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.”
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