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Arizona revises rules to get more substitute teachers into empty classrooms

The Arizona Board of Education voted Monday to amend regulations involving certifications given to substitute teachers, as schools grapple with staffing issues.

PHOENIX — Editor's Note: The above video is from an earlier broadcast.

The Arizona Board of Education voted Monday to remove some bureaucratic barriers that could be keeping potential substitute teachers from getting into Arizona's empty classrooms. 

As the pandemic continues to cause staffing problems across the state, Arizona's top education authority approved revising some rules regulating the certificates given to substitute teachers. 

"Schools are struggling to find substitute teachers, which is causing learning disruptions for students and placing pressure on teachers and administrators," board documents state. 

The board authorized removing a limit that prevents substitutes from teaching in the same school for more than 120 days. Substitutes can now teach for however long it takes a school district to hire a full-time teacher.

Emergency certificate holders can now teach for up to 120 days in the same school per year. The old rules capped them at 120 days in the same school district, which prevented them from getting moved over to another campus.

The board also approved extending the one-year validity of an emergency certification to two years, in order to cut down on the work substitutes must annually complete to renew their certification.  

Dysart Unified School District Superintendent Quinn Kellis said the rule changes should help remove the administrative barriers that prevent substitutes from getting certified. 

Like many other school districts, Kellis said Dysart Unified is struggling to fill a significant amount of teaching vacancies.

"We have many who are just leaving their jobs for the rest of the year," Kellis said. 

Dysart Unified currently has about 200 teaching vacancies and only 60 substitutes, Kellis told the school board.

"That means we have about 140 empty classrooms where we are scrambling to fill those classrooms with an adult," he added.

Arizona allows anyone with a high school diploma and a fingerprint clearance card to obtain an emergency certification. A regular substitute certification, which is valid for six years, requires a bachelor's degree. 

Erin Hart of Education Forward Arizona, a local advocacy group, said the board's reforms should help make it easier for school districts to recruit new instructors.

"The pandemic has significantly impacted our teacher workforce," Hart said. "The need for substitute teachers has become significant." 

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