Shortage of substitute teachers in Kansas opens door to temporary change in license rules

Incoming Blue Valley school board member urges state to take action

By: - December 14, 2021 1:48 pm
Mischel Miller, director of teacher licensure and accreditation at the Kansas State Department of Education, said the agency was considering ways of altering substitute teacher license requirements to help alleviate a shortage of part-time educators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Mischel Miller, director of teacher licensure and accreditation at the Kansas State Department of Education, said the agency was considering ways of altering substitute teacher license requirements to help alleviate a shortage of part-time educators amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Dramatic shortage of substitute teachers in Kansas public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting the Kansas State Department of Education to consider temporarily modifying license requirements for people seeking part-time work in classrooms, officials said Tuesday.

Teacher retirements, resignations and absences and the anxiety felt by potential substitutes about the coronavirus fuel a daily labor shortage in districts across the state.

The problem prompted some Kansas districts to place adults in classrooms without complying with a requirement that substitute teachers complete 60 hours of courses at an accredited college or university, said Mischel Miller, director of teacher licensure and accreditation at the state Department of Education.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Miller said. “We’ve had many requests to adjust the standard for the substitute license.”

She told the state Board of Education the department was considering a plan to temporarily lift employment mandates to relieve stress on school district staffing. The state won’t suspend requirements that substitute teachers undergo fingerprint and background checks, she said.

Kaety Bowers, who was elected in November to the Blue Valley school board, said the state’s public school districts needed a lenient policy on hiring substitutes. She recommended the state Board of Education make temporary adjustments, perhaps 12 months to 18 months in duration.

“We are losing teachers faster than we can replace them,” said Bowers, who takes office in January. “We are having teachers quit at quarter, semester, in the middle of the week. We can’t fill these spots. There is learning loss going on.”

Bowers, who wouldn’t qualify to work as a substitute teacher in Kansas, said her son’s biology teacher quit last week. She said burnout was a significant concern as educators become overwhelmed amid the pandemic. An insufficient pool of substitute teachers contributes to challenges faced by full-time educators, she said.

She suggested the state board grant local school boards the option of bringing community volunteers into classrooms to alleviate the strain.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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