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Arizona schools facing shortage of substitute teachers

PHOENIX — During the recent recession, many out-of- work teachers and others with college degrees signed up to be substitute teachers to help make ends meet.

Now, with the economy improving, many of those who were substitutes have found full-time jobs. That’s causing a problem in Arizona classrooms. School districts are reporting that they’re suffering from a shortage of substitute teachers.

“If the economy rebounds, and more people are at work, that can lead to fewer folks available to do the important work of covering classes and continuing instruction when a teacher has to be out,” said Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association.

In some schools, teachers are having to give up their prep periods to substitute for a colleague who has called in sick. Morrill said that’s not good.

“For every time that a teacher is asked to cover somebody else’s class, that’s an hour out of the day that can’t be used to return phone calls to parents, check grades or go over grades with students, or prepare that next hour’s lesson plan,” he said.

Morrill said Fridays are becoming more difficult to get substitute teachers. “If you’re planning a three-day weekend, or like the idea of having a three-day weekend, a substitute is under no obligation to be a substitute on any given day, so you might decide not to,” Morrill said.

One way to attract more substitute teachers, Morrill said, is for the state to allocate more money to schools.

“The cost of doing business goes up every year in a school district, just like any other business,” he said. “I know that sometimes, it seems like we relate everything to funding needs, but the funding needs in this state are so great when it comes to our schools, that they actually connect to a lot of things.”

Morrill added that, “We’re having a problem with systemic approaches to education funding, and the substitute shortages that we see in different places, to different degrees around the state, are kind of symptomatic of that.”

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