LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan public schools can use non-teaching staff as substitute teachers the rest of the academic year under a law designed to address a shortage during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday that she signed the bill last week, calling it a "temporary stopgap" in a letter to lawmakers. It lets secretaries, paraprofessionals and other school employees without a teaching certificate — such as library aides, bus drivers, cooks and office workers — work as subs as long as they have a high school diploma or equivalency certificate.
The legislation had been approved by the Republican-led Legislature on largely party lines over objections from many Democrats and a couple of Republicans.
"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," the Democratic governor said in a written 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."
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 those teaching careers 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 Rep. 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.
When the Senate passed the bill, Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a Livonia Democrat and 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."
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