Two Lancaster County senators plan to introduce a bill that would prevent a program meant to help schools find substitute teachers from expiring this summer.
Republican state Sens. Ryan Aument, of Mount Joy, and Scott Martin, of Martic Township, said they're working to extend the Act 86 Program, which allows current students enrolled in a Pennsylvania accredited college or university pursuing a teacher certification work as a substitute teacher. Eligible students must have the necessary clearances and at least 60 earned credit hours.
The proposal, announced Tuesday, comes as school districts in Lancaster County and beyond are already struggling mightily to fill classrooms due to abrupt quarantines and illness related to COVID-19. If the program, created in 2016, expires as originally planned on June 30, it could eliminate a portion of available substitutes from an already shrinking pool.
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“This program played a key role in meeting the critical demands of schools throughout the pandemic, and it should be a big part of our education strategy even after (the) public health emergency is over,” Martin, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said.
Aument added that the learning gap suffered by many students during the pandemic “does not need to be further exacerbated by a school struggling to staff their classrooms with qualified substitute teachers.”
County data from the Substitute Teacher Service shows from Aug. 1, 2020, to Jan. 31, there was a 34% drop in available substitute teachers during the same period last school year.
Schools have pursued some extreme measures to keep schools open despite the shortage — from having teachers use prep periods to fill in for absent colleagues to merging classes together in violation of social distancing guidelines — but it hasn't always worked as many schools have suspended in-person instruction at times throughout this school year.