Calling it more of a weekly issue than a daily problem, USD 413 has improved in the area of substitute teacher staffing in comparison to the 2021-22 school year.
“I would say it has improved from what it was last year, but it’s definitely still a struggle, said Assistant Superintendent Matt Koester. “We still have to cover classes with teachers that are then losing their planning times and things like that, and they also have more kids in their classrooms.”
The district has 53 substitute teachers, with two of those employed under the Temporary Emergency Authorized License (TEAL) program. Set to expire in June, TEAL has proved greatly beneficial to some districts during a time of substitute teacher shortages.
“The TEAL license gave school districts an ability to provide a little bit of relief in some areas,” Koester said.
The program has cleared the path for individuals to gain a substitute teaching license through less stringent means.
“There is certainly value to the education and training that teachers receive to be in the classroom, and I think that’s extremely important,” Koester said. “There are people out there that can fill the role of a substitute and do a really good job without that training. To be a teacher is a different situation than being a substitute, which is why we don’t pay them the same as teachers.”
Koester noted that college credit hours earned in non-educational fields may not hold as much within the classroom.
“A person can get 60 college hours that are related to something completely off-base from teaching, and I’m not sure that just those 60 hours qualify you any more than zero hours,” he said.
Koester indicated that critics of the program, such as representatives of teachers’ organizations, do make valid points, notably their distaste over the idea that anybody can fill the role of a teacher.
“Because not everybody can do the job. But as long as there is a vetting process in place, and it’s not just saying that if you want to sub you can sub, I think we could have continued the TEAL process,” Koester said. “Just ensuring we have a process to verify that those people would be okay in front of kids.”
State board changes
The election of three new members to the Kansas State Board of Education in November has upended the status quo. Whether or not the change is trending in a positive direction remains up for debate.
“With the new members, I do think there has been a change in the leadership with the state board,” Koester said, adding that they have made a concerted effort to abstain from votes, which has produced non-votes on key items due a lack of a quorum.
The approval of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) applications seemed to have slipped through cracks, but was ultimately revisited by the state board.
“Some of the things seem minor pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. The approval of ESSER applications have kind of been a rubber-stamp issue for most state board meetings — and now they’re not anymore because of the members who abstain with votes,” Koester said.
Koester theorized that the state board is trying to move away from automatically approving agenda items.
“I think they want some proof behind what some people are asking for, maybe in the form of transparency, or maybe they do have an agenda,” he said. “We’re dealing with public dollars so everything should be transparent. But if their agenda is political in nature, then I would have lots of concerns with that because I don’t necessarily think politics should be driving decisions for public education.”
Koester noted that the district’s dealings with its local state board representative, Jim Porter, have been very positive.
“He is very pro-education,” Koester said.
There are myriad K-12 hot-button issues being looked at by the Kansas legislature. The list includes education savings accounts, vouchers programs and legislation regarding parental rights.
Known as the Sunflower Education Equity Act, a modified version of House Bill 2218 passed out of committee earlier this month. If it were enacted, the program would allow parents to set aside roughly $5,000 of public school funding per student for use at “private or home schools, including unregulated, unaccredited schools,” according to a recent article by the Kansas Reflector.
“It’s certainly not pro-public education. It’s very much pro non-public education, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s pro-private school,” Koester said. “The idea of some people in the legislature is that essentially they should just follow the student whether the student wants to homeschool, go to private school, parochial school. It is certainly not pro-public education.”
Koester expressed skepticism over the potential measure, which even if passed by the Kansas Senate, would take four years to fully implement.
“My biggest concern is that it eliminates accountability,” he said. “We as public schools have accountability measures in place that are expected to be (adhered to). This new bill has been introduced and passed out of committee and there is no accountability. What happens with those kids?”
Humboldt Superintendent Amber Wheeler told USD 258 board members this month about recent happenings related to the Kansas K-12 House of Representative education committee, noting that members seem to harbor a lot of negative views toward public education.
“My blood pressure was really high when I watched the first part of (committee session) on the Sunflower Equity Education Act,” she said, “which they will tell you it’s not vouchers, but it’s 100 percent vouchers.
“Essentially, there’s money for any (student) that wants to go anywhere they want with no oversight of those dollars whatsoever. So I’m going to open Amber’s House of Fun Learning and Staci (Hudlin) is going to open Staci’s House of Fun Learning. My kids are going to her house, and her kids are going to come to me, and we’re just going to keep that $5,000 that comes with it.”
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