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Ohio still doesn't have enough substitute teachers

Licking Heights High School freshmen take notes in a World History class taught by Amy Obhof..
Andy Chow
Ohio Public Radio

As the fall draws near school leaders are facing several challenges, many having very little to do with improving student achievement and test scores.

A nationwide teacher shortage is being felt across central Ohio, with substitute teachers also in short supply, said Nicole Piscitani a lobbyist with the Ohio School Board Association.

“We know back in 2018 Ohio had 16,000 substitute teachers and in 2021 there was only 5,000. So there's clearly such teacher shortage I think we need to get to the bottom of you know what's causing it, “ Piscitani said.

The substitute teacher shortage situation was worsened by the pandemic, said Ohio Education Association president Scott DiMauro, who leads the largest teacher's organization in the state.

“You know there were a lot of people who were retired teachers who had served as substitute teachers and you know at the height of the pandemic when people were worried about health and safety a number of people you know left that work and doesn't look like a lot of them come back you, “ he said.

As a way to attract more substitutes early in the pandemic, lawmakers recently waived some requirements including a four-year college degree. They recently extended those changes for another two years.

DiMauro said the teachers' union recognizes there is a crisis in terms of a substitute teacher shortage, so the lowered standards help for now.

”We can't solve this problem by reducing expectations and lowering quality we're going to have to work together to figure out how do we attract more people to this work and how do we retain the people that are already doing it,“ he said.

Dimauro calls the House Bill reducing educational requirements a temporary fix.

Others agree and share Dimauro's concerns, including Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

“We understand that we are in dire situation right now and we must do we have to do what we need to do to get substitute teachers in the classrooms but there needs to be a serious look at why they're not there and what we need to do to change that. And the concern is always when you lower requirements, even when you say is temporary that eventually becomes permanent and that is it's not a good solution,” said Hopper

One way districts can attract more subs is better pay, which varies from about $120 to $175 a day in central Ohio.

All the education officials we spoke to agree an important part of the standards bill is a study looking at ways to attract and retain good subs.

“House Bill 583 In addition to extending less flexibility, created a substitute teacher shortage study. And so, the legislature will examine the issue and then they are also charged with coming up ways to address the causes. And that report is due at the end of this year, “ said Piscitani.

For now, it appears the bottom line is filling classrooms with willing teachers to get students to the next level.

“We want to keep kids in schools so there needed to be some local flexibilities given to districts so that we could keep kids in school, “ she said.

Districts like Columbus City Schools are also taking additional steps to attract subs Tuesday night they approved an engagement incentive of $100 per week per substitute for six weeks. That move also comes as the district is preparing for an alternative opening if the district's teacher opt to strike days before the start of the new school year.

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.