LANSING, Mich. — Each day, roughly 1,200 substitute positions in classrooms across Michigan go unfilled, according to various school leaders and state lawmakers.
In an effort to address the persistent substitute teacher shortage across the state, some lawmakers are aiming to ease requirements and widen the field of potential qualified candidates.
“It’s a big issue, huge issue," said Dr. Michael Shibler, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, who says the district struggles regularly to fill substitute postilions.
"Bottom line, we need somebody in there and the last thing you want to do ... is you put an adult in there to babysit."
Shibler says his district, like others across the state, has been dealing with the issue "for years," which forces schools to scramble by either pulling teachers from their prep hours, placing principals in the classroom, or popping in a movie to pass time as a worst case scenario.
"We need a teacher in the classroom," said Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, who has introduced two bills to remedy the shortage, including a proposal to allow retired teachers to return to the school district they retired from to substitute teach without it negatively impacting their retirement benefits.
"They already have that knowledge base of the district and the trust and so forth," Hughes said.
As fewer young people pursue a career in teaching, a main source for substitutes has significantly slowed, Shibler said. At the same time, interest from retired teachers wanting to return to the field on a limited basis has increased.
"Many of our retired teachers have said to me, they’d love to come back here a couple days a week and substitute," he said.
Currently, retired teachers must wait one year before being eligible to substitute teach. Retirees working as substitutes can receive full benefits as long as they make no more than one-third of their final average compensation in a year.
However, teachers who have retired since Sept. 2015 have been kept from returning to the classroom to substitute due to a provision that was added into the law. Hughes hopes to remove that provision
The proposal would also eliminate a requirement that districts pay into an unfunded accrued liability fund for any retiree returning in a short-term capacity, according to Hughes. The requirement has made former teachers a more expensive alternative for districts, Hughes argues.
"It will address a need that is continuing to grow and become more prominent," Shibler said. “Everyday is an important day for learning and you want a qualified person in that classroom carrying out that responsibility.”
Substitute teachers in Michigan would also no longer be required by law to have completed 90 college credit hours under this package of bills which proposes lowering the credit hours to 60 to broaden the pool.
Hughes hopes to broaden the pool even wider by also allowing an individual “employed to teach in a subject matter or field in which the individual has achieved expertise" to substitute as long as they held a professional license or certification in the respective subject matter.
Pay for a substitute teacher in Michigan widely varies between $65 to more than $100 a day, depending on the district. Rockford Public Schools pays $75, Shibler said.
Critics say these proposals do little to address pay, which is the real problem.
The bill package is expected to be voted out of committee within the week.