Michigan Allowing Non-Teaching Staff to Work as Substitutes For Rest of School Year

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed a new bill allowing non-teaching staff members to serve as substitute teachers for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.

Whitmer announced that she signed the bill, which was filed with the Secretary of State on Monday according to the Michigan Legislature records, last week. The bill allows employees that have not obtained a teaching certificate to work as substitute teachers as long as they have a high school diploma or a GED. Employees that could begin working as substitutes under the new bill include library aides and bus drivers.

This move was made to combat a severe staffing shortage throughout Michigan's public school system. By passing this bill, the government hopes that this "temporary stopgap" will help alleviate the stresses brought on by the shortage.

"Allowing schools to employ school staff that students know as substitute teachers will help keep school doors open and students learning in the classroom the rest of the school year," said Whitmer in a statement. "I am committed to working with the Legislature to develop high-quality solutions to address these staff shortages long-term so that we can ensure that every child is able to access a quality education."

Others, however, aren't so sure this is the correct path to take. Senator Dayna Polehanki, an ex-teacher, called it a "faulty attempt to mitigate the substitute teacher shortage by playing musical chairs with support staff, taking secretaries and paraprofessionals among others away from their essential duties to sub for teachers in classrooms. We can't rip parapros away from their work with special education kids or secretaries from their critical duties as the first point of contact with anyone who seeks to enter the building."

Schoolcraft Elementary
Students return for the first day of the school year at Schoolcraft Elementary on August 30, 2021 in Schoolcraft, Michigan. A new bill passed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will now have non-teaching staff be eligible to serve as substitute teachers for the rest of the 2021-2022 school year. Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

Michigan generally requires subs without a teaching certificate to have an associate's degree or at least 60 semester hours of college credit. There are exceptions for that teaching career and technical education classes, typically if they have a professional license in the field.

Whitmer signed the bill despite opposition from the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest public employee union.

"If elected officials are serious about solving this shortage, they need to work to raise educators' pay and treat them like the professionals they are," spokesperson Thomas Morgan said. "Anything else is at best a stopgap solution to a massive problem."

The law is supported by school administrators who say the pandemic has exacerbated a teacher shortage and left school districts struggling to keep buildings open. Paul Liabenow, executive director of the Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association, said the law will provide additional flexibility "so students can continue to learn in a safe, supportive environment."

The bill sponsor, Republican Representative Brad Paquette of Niles, is a former teacher. He told senators this month that a lot of school support staff "have already proven that they care about kids, they want to be around kids." Students, he said, behave better when they know the substitute teacher.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Teacher and student
Michigan's new law will allow non-teaching personnel to fill in as substitutes due to an Omicron surge that's creating a shortage in teaching staff. Above, a stock image of a teacher and student in classroom. Getty Images