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‘Magical unicorn’ substitute teacher bill advances

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(The Center Square) – The House Education Committee advanced a bill this week that extends flexibilities in hiring substitute teachers to ease school staffing shortages.

Committee Chairman Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Allentown, referred to the bill as a “magical unicorn” given its unanimous support from teachers unions, the Department of Education, school administrators, and the legislature.

“We face quite a challenge right now in education finding teachers, finding substitute teachers,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, during a committee hearing on Wednesday.

The original provisions were created in 2021 to address a shortage of substitutes across the state, but were set to expire at the end of the year.

The bill allows substitutes to attain temporary certification for positions extending upwards of 20 days and do not restrict the number of days prospective teachers are permitted to work per year. It also gives districts emergency discretion to hire substitutes outside of their efforts to secure permanent teaching staff.

The teaching shortage comes from a confluence of events that have put staffing stress on industries across the commonwealth. As previously reported, the number of educators qualified by the state has dropped by two-thirds since 2010.

The COVID-19 pandemic created high levels of burnout for teachers struggling to adapt to virtual schooling and stressful classroom environments. Meanwhile, the appetite to pursue teaching has dwindled among college students who say they don’t want to be faced with high student debt, low wages, and harsh classroom conditions.

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