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As the substitute teacher shortage continues, requirements to become a substitute teacher in Missouri may become permanently relaxed.

On Tuesday, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a comment period for a rule that would permanently allow people to complete online training as an additional route to receive a substitute certificate to teach.

The proposed rule will be published in the Missouri Register to allow a 30-day comment period. It is expected to be published in June, and the board will most likely vote on whether to officially approve the rule in August, said Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner of the Office of Educator Quality in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In August 2020, the board approved an emergency rule that allowed this additional path to become a substitute teacher in response to the substitute teacher shortage that had worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of completing 60 college credit hours, the rule allowed individuals with a high school diploma or equivalent to complete a 20-hour, state-approved substitute teacher online training to be eligible for a substitute certificate.

The emergency rule expired Feb. 28. Substitute certificates expire four years after receiving them. By the time the rule expired, 4,400 people had completed the training, Katnik said.

DESE also proposed an amendment in August that would make this rule permanent. In November, the board withdrew the proposed amendment after DESE recommended it in light of input it received and to allow for more time to collect and analyze data on its effectiveness. The board had received 41 comments in favor of the proposed amendment and 243 comments against it.

Since then, DESE has collected data that "demonstrates the positive impact the online training option has had on addressing persistent shortages of substitute teachers," according to DESE.

More than 93 percent of school administrators said they are going to continue to use substitutes that were trained through the alternative path, and about the same percentage said they felt it should be a permanent rule, Katnik said.

The data shows people who earned a substitute certificate through the online training can find substitute jobs and do well teaching in classrooms, Katnik said.

"We felt like these folks coming through that training had some knowledge about engaging students and instructional strategies and some classroom management stuff, and so I felt that was really good," Katnik said. "It actually got them zeroed in on what it means to be a substitute teacher."

The training includes topics of "professionalism, honoring diversity, engaging students, foundational classroom management techniques, basic instructional strategies, supporting students with special needs and working with at-risk youth," according to DESE.

The substitute teacher shortage has been a problem for a long time, Katnik said, but it was much worse from March to September 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When we talked to districts, they said it's always difficult to find substitute teachers, so there was a need for us to figure something out — and then the pandemic hit, and it was like, wow, we really got to figure something out," he said. "That's part of the reason for making this permanent."

From March to September, the number of people who became certified to be substitutes was much lower than in 2019, but it began increasing in September when the online training started. In October, 31 percent more people were certified than in October 2019, and the numbers have stayed about the same since then.

"Schools are being a lot more successful in getting all slots covered for any given day when they need subs," Katnik said. "We're definitely caught up to where things were before, which is good."

The online training route has improved the substitute teacher shortage because it has attracted an audience that hadn't applied before due to the requirements, Katnik said.

"We proved that online training gets them ready, and they can go in and do a good job," he said. "We're hoping by now making this permanent that we're going to have addressed the original problem before the pandemic."

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