The state’s teacher licensing board announced that it will temporarily axe the college degree requirement for substitute teachers as school districts across the state face an unprecedented drop in the number of licensed substitute teachers.
It’s an option for districts, which may choose to hire people who qualify for the new temporary requirement in addition to hiring substitutes with current license requirements.
In December 2019, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission reported close to 8,300 licensed substitute teachers across the state. The number precipitously dropped throughout the pandemic and by the time classes resumed this fall, only 4,700 licensed substitute teachers remained.
Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district, typically has an active substitute pool of 800, but is now down to 528 — severely short of what officials say is needed. In neighboring Beaverton, the number dropped from 900 to 685, and in Hillsboro schools, district officials reported 147 active licensed substitutes, more than 300 fewer than at the start of 2019.
The licensing board announced the temporary emergency license that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree last week with hopes that by reducing barriers, more people will apply. The new license places more responsibility in the hands of every district to provide resources and support substitutes, including sponsoring them and covering licensing costs.
Anthony Rosilez, executive director of the state’s licensing board, hopes this will create a pipeline of substitute teachers from school districts’ communities.
“When you get people to work who are more rooted within the local community, in a way there’s almost a natural accountability,” Rosilez said. “One, they’re more likely to stay, and two, there’s also that personal commitment to the schools because that’s their home.”
Every person issued an emergency license can only work inside the district sponsoring them. The license is not renewable and expires after a year.
“It could be a parent who is only working part-time, or maybe lost a job. It could be a person who has been a regular volunteer at a school ... It could maybe be a college student who’s looking to work while they go to school at night,” Rosilez said.
While a multitude of reasons exist for the substitute decline, the pandemic made it worse, according to Sharon Reese, the Portland Public Schools’ chief human resource’s officer. She believes some people may have decided against taking the position or renewing their licenses at the start of the school year out of hesitancy for their health and safety while COVID-19 cases surged.
“Some folks have a wait and see attitude right now as well,” Reese said.
Since the start of the school year, schools across the Portland area have requested close to 55 substitute teachers daily, placing additional stress on a district already facing staffing shortages. When those positions go unfilled, schools either reach out for help from substitutes they already know, or get help from administrators who hold teaching licenses, Reese said.
While the emergency license remains optional to schools, the district wants to take full advantage of it along with its regular substitute job postings, Reese said.