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Michigan is allowing school bus drivers and cafeteria staffers to fill in as substitute teachers, becoming the latest state to expand teaching eligibility amid a nationwide labor shortage

Learning Support teacher Sabrina Werley works with 4th grade student Jeremiah Ruiz at Cumru Elementary School in Cumru township Wednesday morning April 14, 2021.

Ben Hasty/Getty Images

  • A new Michigan law allows school staff like cooks and bus drivers to temporarily fill in as substitute teachers.
  • The change is a stopgap measure to ensure coverage through the end of the school year amid staffing crunches.
  • Several other states have also expanded substitute teacher eligibility to plug shortages.

As schools across the country grapple with a nationwide staffing shortage, Michigan has become the latest to tap into new sources to temporarily fill teaching positions.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill on Monday allowing non-teaching school staff to temporarily fill in as substitute teachers. The legislation allows individuals already working at schools — such as secretaries, paraprofessionals, cafeteria staff, and bus drivers — to substitute teach through the end of this school year, even if they don’t have relevant certifications.

“The pandemic has been challenging for our children, teachers, and parents, and our educators have gone above and beyond to ensure Michigan’s children have a bright future,” Whitmer said in a press release. “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.”

Michigan is the latest in a string of states making similar changes, in some cases permanent, to make it easier to fill substitute teacher positions during the labor crunch.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation opening up substitute teaching positions to retired teachers and eligible college students. In October, Idaho’s superintendent Sherri Ybarra told parents she was returning to the classroom herself to fill in as a substitute teacher and asked parents to join her.

“Many of our districts and classrooms are open, but these shortages are creating some stressful and fragile situations,” Ybarra wrote in a letter to parents. “I am asking parents/guardians and community members around the state to help to fill the substitute teacher and staff shortages necessary to keep our schools open.”

Likewise, school districts in states including Oregon, Iowa, and Missouri have reduced education requirements to allow individuals to serve as substitute teachers in order to plug the shortage faster. 

In addition to substitute teachers, schools across the country are also experiencing a shortage of cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and other staff members, contributed to canceled classes and temporarily shuttered classrooms. 


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