GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With Michigan school districts short on substitute teachers, lawmakers from both sides are behind a new step making it easier to get the job.
HB 4549 would allow anyone over the age of 21 with a high school diploma to substitute teach in high school classrooms. Anyone above 18 in a teacher preparation program could substitute teach kindergarten through eighth grade.
Currently, 60 college credits are required to substitute teach.
The House Education Committee held a hearing on the bill this week. Two lawmakers on that committee, Rep. Brad Paquette, R-Niles and Rep. Carol Glanville, D-Walker, told News 8 they’re supporting the legislation.
“It’s kind of a win-win,” Glanville said.
Glanville and Paquette disagree on a lot, but they’re finding a common ground on the stopgap measure aimed to help alleviate the widespread substitute shortage.
“When we try new things, when we cast a wide net, there are really good things that happen,” Paquette said.
The changes to Michigan’s school code are temporary — they would expire by the end of June 2025.
“Some folks say changing that regulation of having 60 college credits is watering down the teaching profession,” Paquette said. “I disagree completely because to substitute teach, it’s not a profession. So finding out how to get as many people involved as possible through guest teaching is a great thing.”
Glanville said incentive programs recently put in place to attract and retain future teachers, like scholarships and stipends, will take time to make a difference. In the meantime, she calls this a good step to give districts a helping hand.
“As we are rebuilding this pipeline, we need something in the interim to make sure we’re filling the roles we need in our schools and doing the best we can for our kiddos,” Glanville said.
Paquette introduced legislation in 2021 that allowed any school employee without a teaching certification to substitute as long as they had a high school diploma. That included bus drivers, cooks, office workers and more.
“After that bill was passed, I went out and found a lot of great stories of people who stepped up,” Paquette said. “Lunch aids, parapro(fessional)s, security officers. They didn’t have 60 credits, but they stepped up to fill in.”
That law went into effect last March but expired at the end of 2022.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) told News 8 that when the law went away, many districts were left without the resources to get substitute teachers. MDE said this bill, opening the door to anyone above the age of 21 with a high school diploma, will help districts recover from that loss.
Paquette recalled from his experience as a Spanish teacher that could bring in some good candidates.
“I had some parents who could speak Spanish fluently, but they didn’t have 60 college credits, so they weren’t allowed to sub in my class,” Paquette said.
Glanville said the new bill would continue to encourage school employees to substitute.
“If somebody’s an athletic coach, this would be an opportunity for them to be entering more into the classroom and getting a feel for that,” she said.
MDE, Paquette and Glanville said the effort could help young people unsure of their career path explore the possibility of being a full-time teacher one day.
“It’s a career that people go into with their heart,” Glanville said. “When you get into the classroom, you feel what it’s like to be there with the kids and do the work. That’s a real motivator.”
“When it comes down to is having a wide pool of people to choose from, people who care, who want to come into the classroom and support, who know the kids, who have a reputation in the community,” Paquette added. “A lot of those people are walled off to substitute teach.”
Not everyone is behind the effort. During the hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Jaime Churches, D-Wyandotte, voiced concerns it would make it too easy to become an educator, citing her own teaching experience that students need highly qualified substitutes to keep learning.
“I understand the environment in education right now is very trying and to staff our classrooms is sometimes an impossible task,” Churches said. “I understand these problems, and I just want to highlight a different perspective. You can’t put any substitute … in just a fifth-grade room like mine easily.”
“I would like to see something written that really does what’s best for kids of making sure they have someone who is very capable,” she added. “Our job is to make Michigan a destination place for education. If we’re putting a band-aid on something, that’s not gonna do that.”
Paquette expects the House Education committee to approve the bill either this week or next.