JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Future substitute teachers in Missouri won’t need as many credit hours to get a job inside the classroom.

After the General Assembly passed a law earlier this year reducing the number of college credit hours needed to become a substitute from 60 down to 36, the State Board of Education amended its rules Monday.

Even before the pandemic, Missouri endured a teacher shortage, including substitutes, but state leaders say COVID made the lack of educators more prominent.

“There’s no surprise to anyone that we’ve been looking for substitute teachers, qualified substitute teachers,” Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “School districts are still looking for substitute teachers and that’s why it’s really important to put these various pathways into place.”

Two years ago, the board approved a temporary option for those looking to become substitute teachers, allowing applicants to take 20 hours of online training instead of the required 60 college credit hours.

“We then brought this back to the board in August of 2021 where this board made this training permanent,” DESE Assistant Commissioner Paul Katnik told the board Monday. “throughout the course of that school year, we added another 4,000 people that went through that training.”

Since then, DESE says more than 10,000 candidates took advantage of the DESE-approved online course. The department has previously said the change of reducing the number of college credits was necessary due to “severe staffing challenges.”

“We did a lot of research for what makes a good substitute and one of things that we did is institute an online training that is specific to becoming what it takes to be a substitute teacher,” Vandeven said.

The second option for candidates was for an applicant to take 60 college credit hours, in any subject, not necessarily focused on education. This year, lawmakers reduced that down to 36 hours, which required the board to approve the rule change.

With a shortage around Missouri, DESE is asking for people to consider becoming a substitute teacher and apply.

“If you have an absence of a substitute teacher, the people that end up taking on that work are our teachers we are already hearing from our teachers there’s lot of extra stress,” Vandeven said.

Applicants for substitute certificates also must have a high school diploma, GED, or completed a high school equivalency test.

When asked if parents should be worried about reducing the amount of credit hours needed for a substitute to be in the classroom, Vandeven said it’s still up to administrators to decide whether or not to hire those substitute teachers.

“If I were a parent, I would be really happy to see that there is a qualified substitute teacher than to be short staffed,” Vandeven said. “While we are surely working towards getting that certified teacher in the classroom, the next step is to make sure you have a qualified sub.”

Under the same law passed earlier this year, substitute teachers are required to take a survey after a day of being in the classroom. DESE said it has received about 30,000 surveys so far, finding that a vast majority of substitutes are over 40 years old, have a degree of some type and make between $75 and $125 a day.

The education package also allows retired teachers who are substitute-certified to teach part-time without affecting their retirement allowance until 2025.

Last year at this time, DESE said there were more than 3,000 positions in classrooms across Missouri that were either left vacant or filled by someone not qualified.

This summer, the board voted to expand test scores in hopes of getting more teachers certified. According to DESE, roughly 550 teachers miss the qualifying score on the certification exam anywhere between one and four questions. Those candidates have already completed their accredited program but didn’t score high enough on the exam.

Back in April, the board approved expanding the test scores for elementary certification exams by a -2 standard error of measurement (SEM) after a new assessment was implemented in August and enough educators weren’t scoring high enough.

During the board’s June meeting, the board agreed to change the qualifying score to -1 SEM starting immediately. This means someone that missing a handful of questions would be certified.

Katnik explained to the board in June that if the target score is 220 and the SEM for the exam is 15, based on the number of items on the test, that means that candidate could have a true score between 205 and 235.

DESE said of the 550 teachers who would benefit from this expansion, more than 80% of them are working towards being certified in one of Missouri’s top 15 shortage areas.

Last month, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission released its report after months of researching what can be done to combat the teacher shortage. Members of the commission said pay is an urgent priority. The report shows that roughly 8,000 Missouri teachers make less than $35,000.

The commission, made up of 22 members from the business community, lawmakers and educators, was appointed in the spring by the State Board of Education.

Immediate priorities

  • Increasing starting teacher pay to $38,000 and have an annual review from the Joint Committee on Education to ensure teacher salaries remain competitive
  • Fund the Career Ladder Program which rewards teachers for extracurricular activities
  • Establish sustainable funding for Grow Your Own programs, geared towards paraprofessionals, adults or high school students who want to become a teacher
  • Encourage districts to implement team-based teaching models

Short-term priorities

  • Establish a fund to help local school districts pay for the increased minimum starting salary and to increase teacher pay overall
  • Increase support for educator mental health
  • Fully fund the scholarship program that offers tuition assistance to incoming teachers or to educators continuing their education

Long-term priorities

  • Offer salary supplements for filling high-need positions
  • Fund salary supplements for teachers with National Board Certification

Click here to see the commission’s full report.