Short on teachers, Michigan schools can use bus drivers as submarines under GOP bill


The bill was passed by the House in July on the basis of partisan voting lines and could be put to a vote on Tuesday in the Senate Education and Career Preparation Committee. The state’s education ministry opposes the legislation, spokesman Bill DiSessa said. A spokesperson for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not respond to whether she would sign the law if passed.

Sponsored by Republican State Representatives Brad Paquette de Niles and John Damoose of Harbor Springs, the effort aims to ease pandemic-related pressure on school districts through the end of this school year.

Districts have long struggled to find enough substitute teachers, but the problem has worsened during the pandemic when many teachers have retired and those who remain are sometimes forced to self-quarantine due to the disease. exposure to the coronavirus. The nationwide problem has forced temporary school closures and resulted in salary increases to attract replacements. Before the pandemic, substitute teachers in Michigan were typically paid $ 80 to $ 85 per day, but some districts are now offering significantly more.

“What I think is the most important for someone in the class is to know the child’s name, to know the school, to care about the school and to have a reputation in the community. Paquette said last week before the Senate committee. “Staff who are already in the school system have already shown that they care about children. They want to be around children and they have this passion for children.

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, a senior minority on the committee, said the proposal could help with the shortage of substitutes, but would put pressure on other understaffed areas such as cafeterias, transportation services and paraprofessional staff who assist students with disabilities.

“You’re kind of playing musical chairs with critical employees of the school system. I wonder if it’s even achievable, ”Polehanki said.

In an example of staffing difficulties in Michigan schools, schools in the Whitehall District in Muskegon County typically need six to eight substitutes per day, but typically only have two to four available, the Superintendent Jerry McDowell. When there isn’t enough, principals, guidance counselors, and other certified educators typically walk in and out of a classroom throughout the day, amplifying disruption and preventing consistency. for children in the district of 2,000 students.

Several bus drivers and library assistants are on standby if the legislature allows, McDowell said in a telephone interview.

“They have spent most of their lives working for children and school staff in the Whitehall District,” he said. “They already have a relationship with them. They know our emergency routines, they know what to do if things get a little wrong, and they know the principal and secretary of the school by first name.

Senator Erica Geiss, D-Taylor, agrees it makes sense to hire replacements who already have connections with students and knowledge of the school, but is concerned about the quality of the education they could provide.

“Is this envisioned as being essentially childcare or childcare for a class of 30 or 36 students when the goal is really to educate that we, as a parents, send our children to school to receive? ” she asked.

“My concern is that we have already had a year of lost learning for various reasons related to the pandemic,” said Geiss, who is a former educator. “Yes, we need to fill the gaps in our supply teacher base, but how do we make sure that students get the information they need to keep moving forward in their different courses and courses? “

Paquette, a former educator at a public school, said quality would depend more on the teacher’s preparation than whether or not the replacement has college classes.

It’s mostly a question of “how much the teacher is willing to invest in their subplans to make learning happen that day,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but it depends on how much this teacher is going to be invested in, and how much they know about this substitute teacher and what they are capable of.”

Nothing prevents directors from choosing replacements who have more education than the bill requires, Paquette said. “If they have the option of picking someone better, that’s something they’re going to do,” he said.

Education groups are divided over legislation.

It’s not ideal, but it’s a solution that can be implemented quickly, testified Chris Glass of Education Associates of West Michigan, which represents 43 school districts.

School employees in non-teaching positions see the pressure on educators to forgo preparatory periods or hire additional students to cover the absences of their colleagues, Glass said. They want to help alleviate it, and this bill will help, he said.

Other supporters of the bill include the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a charter school advocacy group.

“We desperately need a solution – immediate – to the challenges we face,” Glass told the Senate committee last week.

Opponents, including the state’s largest teacher unions, agree on this point, but say they don’t want unqualified people teaching students.

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