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Missouri lowers substitute teacher requirements to address shortage

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Those seeking a substitute teaching certificate in Missouri will be allowed to pursue accreditation through alternative training as the state still struggles with a staffing shortage heading into the new school year. 

The rule change, approved by the State Board of Education Tuesday, permanently gives applicants the choice between the standard 60 hours of college credit hours or 20 hours of online training to obtain a certificate beginning at the end of the calendar year. The rule was approved on a temporary basis last year to remove barriers to employment and fight the recruitment shortage — which had been an issue in the state for six years but was further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic

Office of Educator Quality Assistant Commissioner Paul Katnik presented the item before the board, noting there were no negative reactions during the month-long public comment period and many of the concerns raised last year had been assuaged. Board members then had considered whether substitute teachers’ potential lack of experience or knowledge could hinder students’ learning, but Katnik only heard positive feedback Tuesday. 

“We’ve had administrators who felt that they were even more prepared than some of the folks who had gone through 60 credit hours,” Katnik said. “Last year there were questions about what it would do, even here with the board. The vendor took the data that we ran and worked on a couple of the modules that folks felt could be stronger over the summer. They feel they can do an even better job on those this year.”

The training includes 20 hours of instruction in professionalism, honoring diversity, student engagement, classroom management, and educational strategies. 

The department intends to invest a large portion of the state’s $1.96 billion allotment through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) fund to address the teacher shortage. The department said it plans to fund a statewide recruitment campaign along with grants geared toward retention and recruitment. 

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) also earmarked more than $50 million in COVID relief funds for teacher recruitment and retention efforts earlier this year, offering $10,000 grants to local education agencies for programs encouraging students to pursue a career in education. 

Food assistance

The board voted to consolidate the state’s school meal programs and alter them to reflect federal standards for free and reduced meals and milk programs, the National School Lunch Program, and the School Breakfast Program. School districts are required to report the number of participants in each program to DESE every February. 

Members also speculated on budgetary needs for the next fiscal year during Tuesday’s meeting, specifically pointing to state and federal investments, proposals to increase teacher salaries to combat staffing shortages, and Missouri’s new Office of Childhood which is set to launch later this month. 

Vaccines and masks

The board also heard an update on the state’s COVID-19 response, noting a lack of statewide mandates and reiterating the reopening guidelines for this fall. 

DESE recommended schools offer vaccination information and opportunities to eligible students while the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is offering funds and staff for periodic testing. DESE Deputy Commissioner Tracy Hinds said the virus and the state’s response were in flux as the pandemic progressed.

Multiple school districts, including Jefferson City School District, are requiring students to wear masks throughout the entire day or in certain situations when school resumes. However, DESE is not compiling data on which schools are instating mask mandates, a spokesperson told The Missouri Times. 

Members encouraged the board to pursue rules that would remove barriers for school bus drivers as the state prepares for a similar personnel shortage this fall. Masks are required on Missouri school buses under recent federal guidelines, an issue board members said could lead to a more substantial shortage in the future. 

In an attempt to address the digital divide and its impact on students during the pandemic, the board proposed a $50 million broadband investment pending approval by the U.S. Department of Education. The investment would mirror a similar grant program administered by the Department of Economic Development. 

The next Board of Education meeting will be held in September.