Substitute Teachers in Critical Short Supply Across America

Significant impact expected on education
By Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac
Steven Kovac reports for The Epoch Times from Michigan. He is a general news reporter who has covered topics related to rising consumer prices to election security issues. He is a former small-business owner, local elected official, and conservative political activist. He can be reached at
January 19, 2022Updated: January 25, 2022

Substitute teachers are in critically short supply, and America’s schoolchildren may be short-changed because of it.

Burbio, a service that tracks school websites, reported numerous school closings across Texas last week due to staff absences and substitute shortages. Many other states are experiencing similar problems.

A 2021 national survey of 1,200 school district administrators and principals conducted by Frontline Education found that 67 percent experienced a shortage of substitute teachers.

A nationwide survey taken in November 2020 by the Education Week Research Center found that of the 913 public school administrators, principals, and teachers questioned, one-third said they couldn’t find a substitute to cover half of teacher absences.

Twenty-one percent said they could fill less than 25 percent of teacher absences.

Eighty percent of the survey’s respondents reported leaving some classes uncovered.

Epoch Times Photo
Since the start of the current academic year, many Michigan schools have been forced to close for the day due to staff shortages. (Wokandapix/Pixabay)

So that no classroom is ever unattended, the general practice has been to ask other teachers to give up their planning and preparation hour to cover for absent colleagues. Principals and vice principals are often also called upon to fill in.

The Frontline Education survey found Michigan among the hardest-hit states.

Since the start of the current academic year, many Michigan schools have been forced to close for the day due to staff shortages.

As a temporary fix, the Republican-controlled state legislature recently passed a bill that allows any school employee with a high school diploma—including school secretaries, paraprofessionals, library aides, janitors, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers—to fill in for absent teachers.

The law, which applies only to previously vetted school employees, was approved on a near party-line vote. It will sunset at the end of the current school year.

Normally to substitute teach in Michigan, a person must pass a criminal background check, be fingerprinted, and have at least 60 hours of college credits, which is the equivalent of an associate’s degree.

In a Dec. 23, 2021, letter notifying the legislature that she had signed the bill into law, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, wrote: “Everything we have learned from the last year and a half demonstrates that our kids need to be in school, in person, every day. As a temporary stopgap, HB 4294 will help meet that goal during these incredibly challenging times.”

Some opponents of the new law worry that allowing less qualified support staff to substitute teach will further undermine the quality of education in a system already challenged by too few in-person school days during the pandemic.

Democratic state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky wrote on Twitter: “I had a number of constituents reach out to me opposing this bill. … Educators are highly trained professionals and I’m deeply disappointed this bill is now law.”

Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said in a Jan. 12 statement, “Stopgap measures—like allowing support staff to be substitute teachers—are not the answer.”

Herbart said her union opposed the recent legislation “because it doesn’t put students or school employees in a position to succeed.”

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, Missouri and Iowa have also passed laws lowering education requirements for substitute teachers.