Just weeks into the new school year, many districts are already experiencing teacher and substitute teacher shortages. In some parts of the state, leaders are taking desperate steps to make sure there’s an adult in the classroom when teachers are absent, resorting to using non-teaching staff who have their own critical responsibilities during the typical school day, according to a report by CalMatters.

The substitute shortage is worsened by an underlying teacher shortage, with some districts telling CalMatters they started the school year with some classrooms being assigned a long-term substitute.

In hopes of attracting more subs, districts have increased their pay rates, triggering similar raises at neighboring districts. But administrators say money won’t create more educators.

How bad is the shortage?

California has seen declining numbers of new substitute teachers every year, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), the agency that licenses full-time and substitute teachers.

In the 2018-19 school year, the agency issued about 64,000 substitute teaching permits. In 2020-21, it issued close to 47,000.

At San Bernardino City Unified School District, the number of substitutes at the district’s disposal shrank from 1,000 before the pandemic to 700.

Mike Teng, CEO of Swing Education, a company that helps over 200 school districts find substitute teachers, said the sub shortage is consistent with staff shortages being seen in the service sector.

In an effort to entice substitute teachers back into the classroom, Chula Vista Elementary School District administrators held an emergency meeting in early August to increase pay for subs.

The district increased pay for short-term subs from $122 to $200 a day. For long-term substitutes, the pay went from $180 to $283 a day. In response, the neighboring Sweetwater Union High School District increased its rate from $160 to $240 a day.

Elk Grove Unified School District has proposed raising its substitute pay rates, especially for current and retired teachers and counselors. These substitutes could make $350 a day once the district’s school board approves the raises. At San Bernardino City Unified, the district gave substitutes a 2% raise and paid $12,000 for digital billboards to advertise its substitute positions on the freeways.

Apart from raising pay, district leaders said the CTC could take steps to remove other barriers, such as the $100 fee and the requirement for a bachelor’s degree.

The substitute teacher shortage is just a symptom of an ongoing teacher shortage, according to district administrators. Because some districts across the state started the school year with unfilled teaching positions, some students have only had a substitute teacher in the weeks since school started.

In the 2020-21 school year, 13,558 of California’s teachers retired, 1,000 more than the previous year, according to data from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

Mary Sandy at the CTC said the agency must credential about 20,000 teachers a year to keep up with the staffing needs of districts across the state. Last year, only about 14,000 teachers received their credentials.