Arizona Lifts 120-Day Cap for Substitute Teachers Amid Pressure From School Districts

The Arizona Board of Education voted on Monday to loosen the state's rules so substitute teachers can more easily fill vacant positions as part of a nationwide shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board decided that substitutes can teach at the same school for as long as is necessary to get a full-time teacher hired, removing a previous 120-day limit to how long they could teach in one school, KPNX reported.

It also declared that emergency teaching certifications will be valid for two years instead of one, so substitutes don't have to renew them as often.

"Schools are struggling to find substitute teachers, which is causing learning disruptions for students and placing pressure on teachers and administrators," the board's documents said.

The moves come amid a teacher shortage, with the changes initially being proposed by groups representing rural schools and administrators, the Associated Press reported.

The Phoenix metropolitan area's Dysart Unified School District reported about 200 open teaching positions and only 60 substitutes, according to KPNX.

Erin Hart, senior vice president and chief of policy and community impact at Education Forward Arizona, spoke at the Monday board meeting in favor of the rule changes.

"The pandemic has significantly impacted our teacher workforce. As a result, the need for substitute teachers has become significant," Hart said. "These changes will provide some relief in recruiting and maintaining substitute teachers for schools across the state."

Jane Konrad, a retired Arizona teacher who now substitute teaches, told,"I wish I could cut myself into a bunch of pieces because I could work in 10 different schools."

According to the report, some school districts are paying substitutes more than before in an effort to keep them. For example, Kyrene School District is paying substitutes as much as $175 to $205 a day when the pay rate used to be about $115 a day.

The teacher shortage has been ongoing across the country and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey conducted by the National Education Association on more than 2,600 members, 32 percent said the pandemic prompted them to plan to leave their teaching positions sooner than anticipated.

A RAND Corporation survey found similar results, with one in four teachers surveyed saying they planned to leave their jobs at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The teachers also reported more frequent stress and symptoms of depression, which many linked to the struggles of teaching remotely.

"We face a looming crisis in losing educators at a time when our students need them most," NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement. "This is a serious problem with potential effects for generations."

classroom, school, chalk board
The Arizona state Board of Education loosened regulations on substitute teachers to allow them to stay at the same school longer amid a teacher shortage. Stock Image/Getty Images