Rep. Patricia Mueller: A bipartisan solution to the substitute teacher shortage

Published 5:45 pm Friday, November 19, 2021

As the school year progresses and calls increase for a solution to the substitute teacher shortage, I have been in touch with countless teachers, administrators, and legislators on both sides of the aisle about the issue. Without a doubt, this is one of the most pressing issues facing our schools this year, and the substitute teacher crunch is showing no sign of improving.

Last session, I introduced a bill that would address this issue. My bill, HF 699, would create a pilot program to allow school districts to employ a person who meets the professional requirements of a short-call substitute teacher, without having to go through the lengthy licensing process under the Public Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB), as long as that person passed a full background check. The safety of our students is paramount, so the background check would be the same as a licensed teacher.

Secondary to the safety of our students is the speed with which we get subs into schools as school districts are struggling to staff classrooms. Both WCCO and the Star Tribune have recently published articles detailing the lengths to which school districts are having to go to get enough substitutes to staff every classroom, including asking parents to become licensed substitutes and raising pay for substitutes. Some districts are down hundreds of substitutes, which means other teachers are covering during their prep times. Both students and teachers are suffering from lack of instruction time.

My pilot program would be in effect during the 2022-2023 school year, and then require a district to report the use of this process to PELSB, so that the legislature could then reevaluate the effectiveness of the program and make the modifications necessary to keep it working well for our districts. My bill had a hearing in the House Education Policy Committee, while the Senate companion passed the Senate floor with a bipartisan vote.

When the Education Omnibus bill came up during special session, I offered my short-call sub bill as an amendment. While several DFL legislators thought this bill offered a unique solution for school districts, only one legislator from the majority party voted for it. Unfortunately, the policy was not included in the final bill. After talking with several members from the majority party, many made a commitment to work on the issue going forward.

Last month, I wrote a letter to PELSB asking to give school districts emergency exemptions from the substitute teacher requirements. PELSB said no. I will continue fighting for this bill and other policies that will help our schools address the serious issues they are facing after the upheaval of the last few years. I also look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle to get this bill passed quickly so our schools have the resources they need as they continue the hard work of educating our students.