Not Enough Subscribers: California Schools Face Serious Teacher Shortage


Kelly Rhoden, principal of Nevada Union High School, spent her Monday morning scrambling to find replacements for her absent teachers.

The school, about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, has 86 teachers. Thirteen were out on Monday.

“We have quite a few teachers either because they have tested positive, are symptomatic, or have their own children who are in quarantine,” she said. “At the end of the day, we just don’t have enough replacements.”

Across California, the shortage of substitute teachers is another burden in an already difficult school year. Administrators take desperate measures to ensure there is an adult in the classroom when teachers are away, using non-teaching staff who have their own core responsibilities during the typical school day, especially during the school day. the first fully in-person school year of the pandemic.

Nevada Union High and the rest of the Nevada Joint Union High School District share a substitute teacher pool with eight other districts in Nevada County. Last year the pool was so narrow that the Nevada Joint Union closed schools due to a shortage of submarines. District officials fear this will happen again.

“Last October we had to go back to distance education because I ran out of replacements,” said Brett McFadden, director of Nevada Joint Union High. “Not because we didn’t have enough protective gear. I missed adults.

McFadden said he even had to replace a course.

County Superintendent Scott Lay said the county has gone from around 200 substitute teachers before the pandemic to less than 70 today. As a result, principals like Rhoden are forced to place counselors and administrators in classrooms. Even then, Rhoden missed three substitutes on Monday.

The replacement shortage is compounded by an underlying shortage of teachers. Several district officials interviewed by CalMatters said they started the school year with some classes being assigned a long-term replacement.

In hopes of attracting more subscribers, districts have increased their pay rates, triggering similar increases in neighboring districts. But administrators say the money won’t create more educators.

“You get to a point where you just beg and borrow from people from all over the district,” McFadden said. “I really like my students, but I’m not going to leave 30 alone in a room.”

How serious is the shortage of money?

California has seen the number of new substitute teachers decline each year, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the agency that licenses full-time and substitute teachers.

During the 2018-19 school year, the agency issued approximately 64,000 substitute teaching permits. In 2020-2021, it issued nearly 47,000.

Prospective substitute teachers are expected to have a bachelor’s degree and meet “required basic skills” either by providing a standardized test result or by earning B’s or better in college-level reading, writing and math courses.

“It’s not very difficult to get a sub-license in California,” said Mary Sandy, executive director of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “But the need is very critical.”

In San Bernardino City Unified, the number of replacements available to the district has grown from 1,000 before the pandemic to 700.

Marcus Funchess, who oversees the district’s human resources, said only about 92% of teacher absences are covered each day.

“Right now our shortage of substitute teachers is a concern due to the number of teachers who may need to be quarantined,” he said. “In one day, we could have up to 45 jobs discovered. “

Why is the number of substitute teachers decreasing?

Aaron Estrada, a substitute for the Chula Vista Primary School District, said many substitutes left the profession last year because the pay was not worth the risk of being surrounded by unvaccinated students and staff.

“It’s hard to try and make a living off substitute education,” he said. “To a lot of people, it didn’t seem like it was worth it.”

Some school districts, especially those in rural communities, rely heavily on retired teachers to work as substitutes. But for these older educators, the risk of returning to the classroom is even greater.

“Retirees have their own fears,” said Rhoden, director of Nevada Union High. “They want to keep their own health first. “

Mike Teng, CEO of Swing Education, a company that helps more than 200 school districts find replacement teachers, said the under-shortage is consistent with staff shortages in the service sector.

“It’s tough. The substitute teachers are gone and haven’t come back,” he said. “And we are potentially trying to compete with every other industry for the workers.”

Rosi Martinez, president of the local Chula Vista Elementary School Teachers Union, said former substitute teachers were reluctant to return because they were making more money on unemployment benefits.

“At one point, we were only filling about half of teacher absences,” she said. “It’s pretty much unheard of.”

Rising wages and lowering barriers

In an effort to attract substitute teachers into the classroom, the Chula Vista Primary School District administration held an emergency meeting in early August to raise the wages of the submarines.

The district increased the salary for short-term submarines from $ 122 to $ 200 per day. For long-term replacements, the salary has increased from $ 180 to $ 283 per day. In response, the nearby Sweetwater Union school district increased its rate from $ 160 to $ 240 per day.

“You can tell it’s a bidding war, but it’s only the market,” Teng said. “But substitute teachers are still not paid enough.

Elk Grove Unified has proposed to increase its replacement pay rates, particularly for current and retired teachers and counselors. These substitutes could earn $ 350 per day, once the district school board approves the increases.

In San Bernardino City Unified, the district gave substitutes a 2% raise and paid $ 12,000 for digital billboards to advertise their substitute positions on freeways. Funchess said the district would increase wages if this aggressive advertising campaign did not attract enough substitutes.

Besides raising salaries, district leaders said the Teacher Certification Commission could take action to remove other barriers such as the $ 100 fee and the bachelor’s degree requirement.

“We could use any temporary reprieve,” Funchess said. “Some other states don’t require a bachelor’s degree to be a substitute teacher. It deserves a discussion here.

A sub-shortage in addition to a shortage of teachers

The replacement shortage is just one symptom of an ongoing teacher shortage, according to district administrators. Since some districts in the state started the school year with unfilled teaching positions, some students only had one substitute teacher in the weeks after the start of the school year.

In the 2020-21 school year, 13,558 California teachers retired, 1,000 more than the previous year, according to data from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

Mary Sandy of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing said the agency must accredit about 20,000 teachers per year to meet the staffing needs of districts across the state. Last year, only around 14,000 teachers received their diplomas.

And while this year’s state budget includes a historic amount of funding for California schools, no amount of money can overcome the end result of a staff shortage.

In the Nevada Joint Union High School District, Superintendent Brett McFadden said that despite increasing the daily rate from $ 100 to $ 150 per day, finding substitutes continues to be a challenge, especially in more rural areas and remote county.

“I don’t have a money problem,” he says. “I have a resource problem.”

Until district and state officials find more effective ways to recruit qualified teachers, principals like Rhoden will start their days rushing to get an adult in each class.

“I don’t know if another raise would work to be honest,” Rhoden said. “I don’t think there are enough teachers there. “

CalMatters is a non-profit, non-partisan media company explaining California politics and politics.


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