By Scott Edger
Little Apple Post
School districts across Kansas scramble to hire teachers at the best of times, and substitute teachers are often in short supply. The COVID pandemic has made the gaps even larger, and now a proposal that could help fill substitute positions is coming before the Kansas Board of Education.
Amidst unprecedented teacher shortages, the KBOE requested and will hear a recommendation today that would temporarily remove the educational component for substitute teachers. Currently, the state of Kansas requires that emergency subs have at least 60 hours of college coursework.
District 383 Human Resources Director Drew Montgomery said teacher absences have been higher than normal this year. He said he would not depict the District’s sub situation as a “crisis, but they are in high demand. We are always looking for substitutes,” he said.
USD 383 follows state guidelines for hiring substitutes. On any given day, USD 383 needs nearly three dozen substitute teachers, according to Montgomery.
Kansas lawmakers exacerbated teacher shortages by handcuffing districts’ pandemic response actions. A law passed last year restricts remote learning to 40 hours per student. Schools that exceed that limit risk losing half of their state funding. School districts are torn between holding classes during a pandemic, canceling school, or risk losing state funding with more online education.
USD 383 pays standard substitutes $17 an hour. Emergency subs are paid $15 an hour.
Eliminating some education requirements would mean far more people are eligible to work as substitute teachers. Regardless of lower educational requirements opening the substitute pool to many more people, KBOE and USD 383 insist that all substitutes will undergo extensive criminal background and reference checks.
Keith Elliott, leader of Kansas operations for Kelly Educational Staffing, which provides substitutes to school districts across Kansas, said his company is experiencing a definite uptick.
“We are seeing a definite increase in the last-minute call-offs,” Elliott said.
Montgomery said currently about 60 percent of the District’s subs are emergency status. He said the District would be open to utilizing substitutes under the proposed plan.
“If these requirements are more lenient it should allow easier hiring of substitute teachers,” he said. “USD 383 will always utilize licensed substitutes unless extreme circumstances warrant different action.”
Kansas would not be unprecedented in the move.
Missouri reduced its academic credentials from 60 credits to only a high school diploma. Iowa reduced its rule from requiring a bachelor’s degree to just some college credits. In Michigan, a temporary law allows school support staff like bus drivers and cafeteria workers to fill in as substitute teachers without any college coursework whatsoever.
While not used as teachers, USD 383 currently employs people as Student Supervisors who assist with the supervision of students during lunch periods, play periods, and at other functions. According to the District’s job postings, no educational credentials are required.
Some Manhattan parents are concerned that individuals with no training in education could be teaching their children.
“Teachers are trained professionals,” said Kathy Getzke, parent of two USD 383 students. “School has been really challenging for these kids the last year or so,” Getzke said. “Just hauling in a warm body off the street to babysit is absolutely not what I’m sending them to school for.”