KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas education officials approved a temporary measure Wednesday to help alleviate a shortage of teachers caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Kansas State Board of Education voted to pass an emergency declaration that temporarily lifts some requirements for substitute teachers.
The measure removes the previous requirement for candidates to have 60 semester credit hours at a regionally accredited college or university.
It allows candidates to apply for a Temporary Emergency Authorized License (TEAL).
Candidates must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma (individuals with a general educational development diploma/certificate aren’t eligible), have obtained a verified employment commitment from a district, be fingerprinted, pass a background check and submit an application to the Kansas Department of Education.
The temporary change in qualifications would run through June 1, 2022.
“Although this is far from an ideal or perfect solution, we have to offer relief to Kansas teachers and schools,” Kansas Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson said in a release. “The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched our teacher ranks thin, and there simply aren’t enough licensed individuals to fill substitute roles when our educators are sick or otherwise have to be out of the classroom.”
The move is a welcome change for the Kansas City, Kansas, School District.
Cynthia Fulks, assistant director of human resources and recruiting, said the substitute teacher shortage has been difficult over the last three years and has only worsened through the pandemic.
"Those individuals who have always been supportive of our community and our students and wanted to make sure that they had a really great education, we know that some of those substitute teachers were just not able to come back, they needed to go home and take care of their own families," Fulks said.
The lack of substitute teachers means the burden often falls on other teachers to fill in who then lose their prep period.
Fulks said the change opens up a whole new pool of applicants.
"Think about caretakers who have been displaced and haven't been in the market for a couple years, those homemakers, any men or women who are changing careers and they just may not know quite what they want to do at this point," Fulks said.
According to Folks, even though the college credit is no longer required, the district will still work to bring in high-quality applicants and train them before they enter classrooms.
Any TEALs obtained through the change will expire June 1, 2022.
Fulks said the district will work to invest in anyone it brings on and will make them aware of other positions in the district.
"We are turning it into an overall career opportunity to show them that if they stay with us, they have other opportunities outside of being a substitute teacher," Fulks said.
Marcus Baltzell, spokesperson for the Kansas National Education Association, said the NEA supports the effort.
"What we know is that we are in an emergency situation and we need to give educators time to recover from illness quite honestly, and to get back into the classroom," Baltzell said. "In order to do that we have to have subs so we can keep kids in classrooms and we can keep schools open — that's extremely important."
Baltzell said this decision is the result of Kansas lawmakers taking away local control from districts and limiting how they can respond to the pandemic.
In Missouri, changes were added to speed up the process of becoming a certified substitute teacher last year.
Despite these changes, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said school districts continue to face a substitute teacher shortage.
"We frequently hear substitute teacher fill-rates are 50% or less now (meaning only about half of a day’s vacancies can be filled), when districts used to average 80%-100%," the department said in a statement to KSHB 41 News.