Gov. Tom Wolf has signed legislation aimed at easing Pennsylvania’s school staffing crisis, temporarily expanding the pool of available substitutes and allowing retired teachers to fill teacher vacancies on an emergency basis.
The measures, which will be in place for the remainder of this school year and for the 2022-23 term, will allow schools to use unlicensed eligible college students and recent education school graduates to serve as substitutes, double the number of days teachers with expired Pennsylvania certificates can sub, and allow those 25 years and older with at least 60 college credits or three years’ experience as a paraprofessional to serve as “classroom monitors,” delivering preplanned lessons for a teacher.
“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,” Wolf said in a statement Friday. “I look forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to address these key issues longer term.”
Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the state’s largest union welcomed the legislation.
“We hope this will reduce the number of overcrowded classrooms and ease the burden teachers and support professionals are facing,” Askey said in a statement.
Before the pandemic, many districts were already struggling to find substitute teachers. But it’s even tougher now, with more openings and fewer teachers willing to sub. Unfilled teaching roles have a ripple effect, with classroom teachers pulled from preparation periods and support staff trying to plug unfilled holes, exacerbating the challenges of an already tough school year.
Some districts have increased pay or offered bonuses to attract more candidates, but administrators say such efforts haven’t moved the needle enough.
Schools that typically have no trouble attracting temporary teachers are finding themselves scrambling; some principals say open sub jobs routinely go unfilled. In October, the Philadelphia School District, for instance, was filling only about 41% of its substitute teaching jobs months before staff absences typically peak.
“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 law will help students, educators, and support professionals do that essential work.”