Removing Barriers to Alternative Education | Opinion

The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Times-News.

When Pennsylvania faces its own problems, stealing great ideas from other states isn’t a crime — it’s commendable. Facing a severe national shortage of substitute teachers, Pennsylvania should steal an idea from Ohio that would increase the number of substitute teachers by removing some of the requirements to do so.

Ohio now allows anyone with a degree in the subject to apply for a subject-specific replacement teaching license. Applicants must always pass background checks.

Subject knowledge is the most important component of teaching. Ohio’s decision to allow subject matter experts to teach benefits teachers and students. Pennsylvania is expected to follow suit.

Currently, substitute teachers must have a Pennsylvania Educator’s Certificate, which requires completion of an approved course as well as a recommendation from the institution providing the course and a bachelor’s degree or out-of-state certificate. A substitute teacher can earn between $100 and $130 per day.

Even before the pandemic, fewer people were applying for replacement jobs. That, along with a growing number of teacher retirements, has caused many school districts to scramble daily to staff classrooms.

Like Ohio, Pennsylvania is experimenting with ways to attract new substitute teachers, including raising salaries, allowing retired teachers to fill in as substitutes, increasing the number of days a teacher substitute can work and enabling students about to graduate.

These are all good ideas, but they have not met the growing demand for substitute teachers.

The shortage of substitutes stems directly from a decreasing number of teachers. A decade ago, Pennsylvania issued about 15,000 teacher certifications in the state, the Pennsylvania Department of Education reports, up from 5,000 in the 2020-21 school year.

A National Education Association survey earlier this year found that more than half of teaching staff were considering leaving the profession early. Nationally, there are 360,000 fewer public education employees than before the pandemic.

Substitute education was once a viable way for new graduates to eventually land a full-time job at a school. Now it’s more of a side hustle. The Post-Gazette recently reported that state education data shows the number of emergency hires has exceeded the number of new teachers.

More substitute teachers aren’t a long-term solution to the dwindling number of teachers, but students need teachers now.

Pennsylvanians with degrees in languages, math, music and physical education should be able to volunteer to teach, as the state and nation try to address the thorny, long-term issue of declining teacher numbers.

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