Bipartisan agreement? Leaders take quick action to deploy more substitutes

State workers, National Guard members and parents in several states are now being encouraged to volunteer.
By: | January 20, 2022

Keeping classrooms open for in-person learning during this winter’s omicron surge appears to be—gasp!—a truly bipartisan issue. Maybe.

What’s certain is that district leaders grappling with severe teacher and staff shortages are now receiving unprecedented assistance from elected leaders on both sides of the political divide and various sectors of their communities.

State workers and National Guard members in New Mexico are now being encouraged to volunteer to become licensed as substitute pre-K-12 teachers or childcare workers through the Supporting Teachers and Families initiative unveiled Wednesday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “Our schools are a critical source of stability for our kids. We know they learn better in the classroom and thrive among their peers,” said Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.

These volunteers must meet the same requirements as regular substitute teachers, including a background check and completion of an online substitute teaching workshop. But officials hope to streamline the process, as state workers will be allowed to use administrative leave to work in schools and child care programs.

“This will be instrumental in helping us return and continue in-person learning by covering staff vacancies and reducing the stress on our remaining staff who have taken on additional duties,” said Superintendent Hilario Chavez of Santa Fe Public Schools, which is currently on remote learning until Jan. 24.

All state employees in Oklahoma can now serve as substitutes to help prevent schools from having to close. Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed an executive order this week that protects the pay, benefits and employment status of workers who volunteer to cover classrooms. The state’s chamber of commerce is also now encouraging local businesses to partner with schools. “Businesses are already struggling with workforce shortages, just like schools,” said Chad Warmington, president and CEO of the Oklahoma State Chamber. “We hope businesses are able to partner with their local districts and encourage available employees who are healthy and willing to volunteer as substitute teachers.”

More from DA: These 3 districts have plenty of ideas for easing COVID staff shortages 

But not all of the state’s education leaders were satisfied with Stitt’s order. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, a Democrat, called it “a cup of water on a raging fire.” She encouraged the governor to instead give schools more authority to mitigate the spread of COVID and to use the state’s COVID relief funds to deploy the National Guard to assist with school transportation and food services. “We all agree it is best for schools to be open, and I appreciate that the governor has finally recognized this crisis,” Hoffmeister said in a statement. “But we need caring, equipped teachers in classrooms and for the focus to be on learning.”

Of course, salary can also be a strong enticement. Like several other districts have done, Wichita Falls ISD in Texas on Wednesday approved new incentives for substitutes that offer higher pay for those who are willing to work more.

And school districts in Utah are casting a wider net for substitutes, with some encouraging parents to apply, reported. The districts told the station they are not loosening background checks or other requirements. “Anyone who’s willing and able to substitute, we absolutely welcome you to apply for that,” Yándary Chatwin, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City School District, told