Kansas, Facing Teacher Shortage, Allows 18-Year-Olds to Work as Substitutes

Teachers around the U.S. are in short supply due to absences and the COVID-19 pandemic, and schools have seen everyone from soldiers, officers, analysts, and, more recently, 18-year-old high school graduates being teachers.

Kansas is among several states to loosen the requirements to become a substitute teacher. While some schools have closed due to the pandemic and virtual learning has taken place, other schools have decided to allow state workforce workers to become teachers, including Utah, Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa. At some schools where it was previously required to have a bachelor's degree or at least 60 college credits to become a substitute, a high school diploma and being 18 years of age will suffice, according to the Associated Press.

The new rules in Kansas state that candidates must be 18 or older, have a high school diploma, (not a GED), a verified commitment from a district for employment, pass a background check and submit a completed application to the state education department.

Schools are also calling for custodians, librarians and support staff to help cover classrooms, as well. In California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, governors allow schools to use retired teachers for short-term assignments. State workforce employees are allowed to take up to 30 hours of administrative leave to work as substitute teachers or in other school positions.

"We're being asked to consider this measure as a last resort," said Melanie Haas, board member of the Kansas City Education Board. "Some of the comments I have heard from teachers are very angry. They feel very devalued."

The changes in the Kansas school districts are to be in effect until June 1, when the Kansas State Board of Education will review the changes and add stricter requirements for teachers.

Teacher Rally in Chicago
Public school students protest outside of the Chicago Public Schools headquarters after walking out of their classrooms on January 14, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. The students walked out of class to demand a voice in the ongoing battle between the school district and the teacher's union over COVID-19 safety measures. Scott Olson/Getty Images

"There are systems that are having to put people in front of students who do not hold that (substitute teacher) license," said Mischel Miller, director of teacher licensure and accreditation for the Kansas Department of Education, according to KMUW Wichita 89.1. "Desperate times call for desperate measures."

Spokesman for the Kansas National Education Association, Marcus Baltzell, said the requirements being lessened could hurt the education students receive.

"We're saying we can take this classroom teacher, who's trained in pedagogy and everything that comes with that, and just replace them with someone off the street? And we're going to do that because it's a crisis?" he asked.

Baltzell claimed what's best for students is to have certified teachers and substitutes with proper credentials.

The Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas reported 141 employees testing positive Monday for COVID, leading to custodians and other school workers filling the space of the sick in classrooms to help keep the school open.

According to KMUW, Missouri followed Kansas' lead in making the requirement for substitute teaching only a high school diploma, while Iowa requires some college credits, instead of the previous requirement of a bachelor's degree.